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Parents of students enrolled in the Montessori program at Douglas Elementary School recently were informed that the District was considering termination of the program. Setting aside the fact that this late notification leaves parents short on time to find alternatives or to offer input into the decision, our greatest concern is that this short time frame will result in a hasty decision that is based upon incomplete information, rather than the thoughtful consideration of what is in the best interests of students within the District.
The Montessori program at Douglas Elementary has yet to complete its third year, which means that it simply is too soon to evaluate the long-term benefits the program will have on the students that are enrolled. The Montessori program at Douglas Elementary also has yet to undergo any form of internal assessment to ensure that the program is structured and functioning in an appropriate manner. Even if there were sufficient data to compare students in the Montessori program to those in traditional classrooms, a failure to show any difference could be the result of improper implementation of the program, and not related to differences in the nature of the instruction being received.
The administrators involved in the decision have asserted that there are insufficient data from other public school Montessori programs to justify the expense of maintaining the program, in spite of the fact that Montessori programs are not a recent development within South Carolina, having expanded to 47 programs within 24 South Carolina school districts. We took the liberty of contacting administrators from other districts within the state that have had Montessori programs in their public schools for an extended period of time, and have received nothing but positive evaluations of the efficacy of their Montessori programs, confirmation that growing pains are to be expected, and assurance that children from Montessori programs do not have difficulty transitioning to a traditional classroom in upper elementary, middle or high school. From what we have ascertained, the elimination of the Montessori program in the Edgefield School District would mark the first time a district has elected to terminate such a program in this state.
There currently is no fixed procedure that the District follows when deciding whether or not a program such as the Montessori program should be eliminated. This should be a great concern, not only for parents of children in the Montessori program, but for any parent who has a child enrolled within the District. Best practices dictate that policies should be in place to ensure that information is gathered, and decisions rendered, in a manner that supports the mission of the school district. The absence of such a policy poses the risk of haphazard decision-making processes that are subject to the shifting objectives that accompany personnel changes and the ever-changing political climate, and a focus on short-term concerns instead of long-term objectives.
Increasing the educational opportunities for our children, and working towards enhancing the quality of education that they receive, will require careful evaluation of the mission of the District, and the thoughtful design of procedures to be followed as the District and the Board work towards making improvements. Anecdotal evidence and data-based evaluation of student outcomes from other districts in our state strongly indicates that the benefits of a Montessori program are not just restricted to private schools. We are fortunate to have the choice to take advantage of such a program in our District. As parents, we have to be diligent in making sure that the decision on whether to keep this program, and all future decisions that address our children’s education, are given careful consideration within a meaningful framework that is built upon the long-term objective of improving the quality of education that we offer our children within the Edgefield County School District.
Derek and Mary Zelmer