Tuesday, March 8, 2011

a note on charter schools

Before I go into a Samuel update (and a rant about my annual placement frustrations), I thought maybe I should explain a little bit about charter schools for those of you who aren't familiar with them.

First off, charter schools are free public schools using public tax dollars. They cannot discriminate in admission, although they can put cap limits on enrollment. This means that there is usually some sort of random lottery or drawing to determine who gets into the school when the number of people wanting to go exceeds the cap on class sizes.

Isaac and Abigail both attend a local charter school. Our house sits just about equidistant from our local neighborhood public school and a charter school that was opening the year that Abigail was starting kindergarten. Having had no previous experience with kids in school, we figured it'd be worth a shot in trying to get into the charter school.

What happens at our school is that the older grades are filled up first, then the younger siblings of those students get preference for filling in the younger grades. After that, whatever spots are left are filled via lottery. If there are more younger siblings than available spots, then they too are put in a preferential lottery drawing, so sometimes even the siblings don't get in (although I can't imagine that happens very often). Abigail got in in kindergarten (out of 5 spots that were left after the siblings filled in) and then Isaac got in automatically, and Samuel and Elisabeth would too.

So, once the school is up and going, as the younger grades move up the only spots that become available are when someone moves away or changes schools. This means your best chance, really, for getting in is usually in kindergarten. (and just so we're all clear, this means that when we opted to put Samuel in public school so he could be in a small-group special needs kindergarten, we gave up his spot in the charter school. After that, he's in the sibling preference pool for the open spots in his next grade, if there are any)

ok. Does that make sense?

So. Some of the advantages, or things that make our school different from our neighborhood school, are that the class sizes are limited to 25 kids per class and only 2 classes per grade. Aside from the academic advantages of smaller classes, I just like having a smaller school setting. I like knowing the director and school secretary fairly well. I like having smaller school functions (although I still hate the crowds even at these).

The charter schools can also have school uniforms. Ours is basically khaki or navy pants and white, red, or navy polo shirts (with some variations, skirts, etc, but that's the basic idea). It's easy!! Shopping for school clothes is easy (although sometimes frustrating to find the right things) - once you find a good supply, you just stock up on all the same things and you're done! wohoo. Also getting dressed in the morning is easy. Mix and match, pick something and throw it on, easy peasy. (There are other more philosophical advantages to wearing uniforms to school, but I won't get into that)

Our charter school also has a different curriculum program than the public school. They are required to follow the same state curriculum standards or what not - but they use different tools and programs, or whatever. I have had mixed experiences with some of that. On the best side, there are some deeper enrichment activities and more academically challenging work and they do try to meet each child at their level. It can be wonderful. On the downside, I have seen a child pushed beyond their ability to the point where it only caused frustration for all of us and we have sometimes had so many extra projects it was ridiculous. But I have concluded that there is no perfect situation. Especially for a family of more than one child. What fits and works perfectly for one child may not be as great for another. But, unless you feel up to paying private school tuition (think in terms of college tuition, seriously), and driving hours back and forth, and possibly needing to be in multiple places at the exact same time, I cannot see that you can hand-pick a different school for each individual child's needs. (If you have somehow figured out a feasible way to do that, by all means let me know.)

I should also note that the charter school is legally required to provide special education and services just as the public school is. All of the same special education laws apply.

Anyway - and finally, our charter school does not provide transportation. And actually we are close enough to the neighborhood school that our kids would not be bussed there either. The exception to this is for the kids in a self-contained small-group special needs class - the public school provides buses for those kids no matter where they live (such as Samuel).

So. There you go. (phew! That was long-winded, sorry)

If you happen to still have questions or curious to find out more, you can go to the Utah State Office of Education website and read about charter schools here.

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