Thursday, January 19, 2012

Charter/Magnet Schools

Washington Congress is currently talking about creating charter schools in order to help students.  Some people argue, why are we spending this money?  Some people think it's a great idea, and some people don't know what a charter school is. . . as a mom who moved here a year ago from a state that has charter or magnet schools as we called them in Wichita, KS I hope to share with you why I think Washington Congress is absolutely right on target about the important role charter schools can have our students in Washington.

I was first introduced to the idea of looking at Magnet schools by my friend Trisha Carlson.  Her nieces attended magnet schools and had great success academically.  I started checking into them and I talked with my aunt and uncle who had sent both of my very bright cousins to magnet schools.  Dacia had excelled, but magnet schools weren't really for Adam - he is doing other amazing things now with his life and it just wasn't a good fit for him.  But for both of my older daughters it was a great choice and would also be a good choice for our youngest daughter. 

So let me tell you about Wichita and how it worked for our charter schools.  In the middle of January the school district would hold a fair at Century 21 and parents could come with or without their children and look at the different choices in schools.  There is are elementary schools that specialize in physical fitness, one specializes in multimedia, another is a fine arts elementary school some focus on computers and helping students become better at school period.  It's the same for middle schools.  Each magnet/charter school has a motto.  Parents meet with teachers from the schools, they look at what they offer and then fill out paperwork and get three different choices in case their first choice is not available.     Sadly, there is only one charter high school and it's not in a good neighborhood but it's there.   By mid April all applications for charter schools must be turned in and it isn't first come first serve - they hold a lottery.  Unless your child is different - for Elizabeth she was a shoe-in for Spaght because she was white and it is 98 percent black.  We liked the school so much that we had decided to place our youngest daughter, Rebekah there too but we moved to Washington before she reached school age. 

Sarah's middle school was a Fine Arts Media Magnet Middle School.  . .  it was challenging and incorporated fine arts into many of her classes.   It also made her work very hard to do well in school - that's the other thing about charter schools - they are accelerated schools and have a high standard for their students.  And most charter schools have students there because their parents are hands on and want what is best for their children's education. . . i.e. more success because they have support at school and at home.  

Elizabeth's elementary school started as a Gifted Magnet Elementary School - Sam S. Spaght and their first motto was "Every child is gifted."   After the first year though, it became a Multimedia Magnet School; they used cameras, video machines, and computers to help the students learn.  Lizzie loved the smart board - it was one of her favorite things about school.     It was tough and challenging, but they had a great special needs team which worked out perfectly for Elizabeth because when I chose it we didn't yet have an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.  The team at her school was AMAZING!!!  I would recommend her school to anyone who had a special needs child.  The teachers are great and really invested in the children. . .  which brings me to my next point.

The teachers in charter schools in Wichita really work the kids - they also find ways to help them learn the materials.   They have smaller classrooms as well so they can help more students and especially those who are struggling.   They care because they know that the majority of the students who attend the charter schools are there because their families want something better for them.    They also tend to have principals who care about the students.  Especially at Spaght, the principal Mrs. Sherwood made it a point to get to know Elizabeth and all of the students and when they succeeded she offered prizes to them.   She genuinely cared about the students and most of the principals I met at charter schools are the same. .

I know it seems like it might be expensive, but charter schools offer several things that Washington really needs to consider.

1.  You get out of your children what you put into them.  If you want your children to succeed in school then investing in charter schools with accelerated programs is a great way to teach our children many skills. 

2. Charter schools generally offer smaller classrooms - some of them are neighborhood magnet schools which means if you live in the neighborhood, then your children can attend without worrying about the lottery and getting their children into a good school.  The neighborhood charter schools have larger classrooms, but the other principals still apply to caring teachers, and parents who are really invested in their children's education.

3.  Charter schools are a good way to make general public school classrooms smaller.  They also offer busing in Wichita if you live 2.5 miles for the charter school your child is picked to attend (assuming you win the lottery).   If you don't live that far from the school, then you have to drive your kids to and from school, but really is that such a hardship if it means a better education for your children?

4.  Charter schools can be geared individually towards students with special skill sets.  Wichita has a computer magnet and a science and math magnet school to name a few choices.  One middle school has JROTC in it and several high schools in Wichita offer an very accelerated program for students who are very smart and want to get into ivy league colleges. 

These are all a few reasons why you should consider supporting charter schools in Washington.  Right now Kansas is ranked #9 nationwide in education.  Washington is currently sitting at #19 - but I know you can change that.   Of the many things I've learned in the first year of living in Washington it is that many parents want what is best for their children.   I know you have some programs, but the truth is, especially in Everett that charter schools would help our students tremendously.   It also might be a good idea for the teachers to start attending special education conferences in other states that are in the top ten for special needs - Wichita, KS is currently ranked #4 in special needs education.  Learning from them and encouraging your teachers and raising their pay would also be a good idea.  Right now a football player makes millions of dollars, but teachers are paid poorly and have to deal with students who have poor parenting at home - they buy a lot of supplies out of their own pockets - but I might be biased since I have aunts and a single mother who were all educators. 

I hope that you all have a good week and God Bless.
In Christ,

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