Charter schools: A parental choice and alternative to the neighborhood school

Column by Dr. Gary Stueven


Public school principals have many opportunities to engage with others (parents, educators, colleagues, politicians) in conversations about choice in today's public school environment. I have certainly had my share of conversations, discussions, and debates over the years since charter schools began opening in Colorado in 1993. While the Douglas County School District and others have a much broader picture of choice that encompasses a number of options, most parents I talk with view school choice in a narrower context. For them it becomes a choice, or mission, to have the opportunity to decide between their neighborhood school and a desired charter school.

Parents have shared with me a number of reasons why they want to have the choice, or hope to have the choice, to attend my school. I suspect many of these reasons are comparable to what my charter colleagues also hear on a regular basis. Many times the reason is very specific and provides some insight as to what is most important to the parent at that time. Here are a few:

• I like the math (or reading) program that PRA teaches which my neighborhood school does not.

• I believe in Core Knowledge.

• I know that PRA has earned the John Irwin Schools of Excellence Award for many years.

• My child does not have enough homework at her present school.

• My neighbor's children attend PRA and they love their teachers.

• I want my child to be in a smaller middle school setting at a K-8 school.

• I want to be at a school where parents are more involved.

• My child belongs in a uniform.

• I heard parents get to "run" the school.

I cannot disagree that any one of these reasons may be all that a parent feels or perceives is sufficiently legitimate to support such an important decision about where his child should attend school. My role is to communicate to prospective parents (and current families, too) our school's mission, our expectations for student performance and parental involvement, and our responsibility to teach. Hopefully, all of this information will be given due consideration as a choice to attend PRA becomes a decision.

Yes, parents have their reasons to attend a charter school. However, over the next three to four months I would like to share my professional points-of-view on why the choice of a charter school is a viable alternative to the neighborhood school. I believe that the viability of such a choice rests with how charter schools and neighborhood schools are different, and it is these differences that make it possible for me as principal to address the varied reasons that parents tell me why they want to attend PRA or any other comparable charter school.

I believe that in Douglas County charter schools and neighborhood schools embrace a very similar basic purpose - a purpose to provide a quality education to its students. The dissimilarity is how as two separate schools we are governed, administered, operated, and financed. In my next article I will share my perspective and experiences on the governance of a charter school versus a neighborhood school.


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