Friday, April 09, 2010

How the Charter School is Working Out for Us

We started sending our three youngest children to a charter school at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. We are now less than two months away from the end of our kids’ second school year with the charter school. I figured that it would be good to analyze how it has worked out for us.

Our kids’ charter school didn’t exist at the time that we applied. A charter had been granted by the state (and believe me, that requires a lot of work and dedication), but no school facility had yet been built. Our involvement began when my wife saw a lawn sign about the school and visited the website shown on the sign. Eventually we attended parent information meetings and we decided to apply.

One of the early drawbacks was that the construction project fell through when the contractor failed to obtain financing. School officials scrambled and arranged to lease a vacant school in the Ogden School District for the 08-09 school year. The building didn’t really meet the needs of the charter school, but they made it work.

The new building was constructed in the meantime and was ready for the 09-10 school year. It’s a decent facility that lends itself well to the school’s methodology. But parking is inadequate for larger evening events to which families are invited. The facility is about seven miles from our home. The drive to or from the school takes 10-15 minutes depending on conditions.

When I say “school officials,” I mean the principal and the all volunteer board made up of parents of students. The school also has a secretary and a part-time vice principle. That’s the extent of school administration. Some administrative tasks are handled by volunteers.

Our children’s school uses the expeditionary learning model. There is a greater focus on hands-on learning, getting out of the classroom, and using all skills learned in a comprehensive way. So the basic teaching style is somewhat different than the traditional public school model. Each teacher must certify in expeditionary learning.

Busy classrooms and field trips are expected in expeditionary learning. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t quiet times. But students often work in teams and participate in collaborative activities. Schoolwork is peer reviewed and improved before being handed in.

The school is divided into pods: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9th (that sometimes joins with the 6-8 pod). Each pod has a number “crews” consisting of a teacher and 25 student crew members. Except for Kindergarten and 9th grade, grades are mixed in each crew. Older students mentor younger students.

The school has a uniform policy that is more like a dress code. Students don’t have to wear official school clothing. The clothes can be obtained from any source, as long as styles and colors are right. Shirts may be one of three solid colors. Pants and skirts may be one of two solid colors. Certain styles are prescribed, including collar size, sleeve length, pant/skirt length, and waist style (no low riders).

Nobody gets uptight about the uniform policy. It provides for plenty of flexibility, but the policy is strong enough to keep students looking modest.

That provides some of the background about the charter school. In the next post I will list pros and cons. Some of the latter are nontrivial. But for us, the pros presently outweigh the cons.


Frank Staheli said...

I love our kids' charter school. Charter schools are a step in the right direction. It's too bad that they are not more on parity with traditional public schools, though, when it comes to funding.

I was at first worried about the requirement that students wear uniforms--until I understood what it meant. As you say, our charter school provides a variety of ways to satisfy the uniform requirement, and it's mostly a modesty thing and provides the ability to foster an excellent learning environment.

It seems, by the way, that my kids' charter school is far more ethnically and religiously diverse than other schools around the area.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Our experience is the same with respect to diversity. Our kids' charter school is far less homogeneous than the local school.

Although we have never tried home schooling, I am amazed at the number of students' parents I have met that tell me that they home schooled their kids for a while before bringing them to the charter school.

Also, despite the fact that the school gets less per student than does the school district, administrative expenses per child are a mere fraction of what they are in the school district. Yet, our charter seems to exceed the traditional schools in most ways that are important.

Meaning no disrespect to the army of administrative folks that work for school districts, this causes me to question the value of all those layers in the school administratosphere.