Parents and local educators hoping to open a new charter school in Beaufort County have cleared their first hurdle.
The S.C. Charter School Advisory Committee gave preliminary approval Tuesday to an application to open Lowcountry Montessori School in Beaufort.
The proposed charter school is one of 19 applicants for the 2014-15 school year and would be sponsored by the statewide S.C. Public Charter School District, not the Beaufort County School District.
Now that the advisory committee has recommended approval of the charter school's application, the state charter-school district has 45 days to approve or deny it.
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School organizers will present their application to the state charter-school district July 29 for final approval.
If approved, the school would begin a year of planning prior to opening in Fall 2014 with first through ninth grades. A new grade would be added each year until 12 grades are offered, according to E.C. Montessori teacher Amy Horn, who is leading the charge for the new school.
Horn and other Beaufort County educators say there is substantial demand for another charter school in the area, reflected by long waiting lists at local charter schools and a public Montessori program.
Charter schools are public schools that must meet all state and federal standards but have more independence than traditional public schools. They have their own governing boards of parents, educators and community leaders, and control their finances and curriculum. More than 19,600 students are enrolled in South Carolina's 53 public charter schools.
Charter schools that organize under their local elected school board, including Riverview Charter School in Beaufort, receive money raised through local property taxes. Schools organized under the statewide district, including Bridges Preparatory planned for the Beaufort area and Royal Live Oaks Academy of the Arts & Sciences in Hardeeville, receive state funding.
Charter schools receive no public money for buildings or transportation and have to find their own space and raise money to pay for furnishings.
The proposed Beaufort charter school will be based on the Montessori method, which emphasizes a hands-on, "discovery approach" in multi-aged classes. Students work at their own pace, often independently. Montessori teachers are trained to guide students to explore their surroundings and help them think creatively, Horn said.
"We are excited to have reached this milestone," Horn said. "We have a group of dedicated people who have been working hard to create the first public Montessori school serving grades first through 12th in Beaufort County and look forward to hopefully opening in the fall of 2014."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom