Friday, September 19, 2008

How to Shop for Public Education

When we grew up, going to a public school was pretty much a given. It was in the neighborhood, it was what our parents did and they turned out ok, there weren't a lot of alternatives, and most importantly it was free. Boy have the times changed! There are many choices for parents. In our city alone there are over 130 private schools - almost as many as there are public. Even in the public schools you have choice, like the magnets we have in Duval. The times may have changed - but largely and unfortunately - public schools have not. Given the number of students lost each year to private or to magnets, regular old public schools had better figure out how to meet the needs of a ever changing, ever growing and ever more demanding community.

Information abounds. Beyond what you can find on the state or local webpage there are whole companies like Great Schools and School Matters devoted to comparing schools and providing potential consumers with more than enough info, including testimonials, to help them make up their minds. Parents are smarter about what they want, or more importantly don't want, for their kids. Just this past week I was emailed by a prospective parent who basically interviewed me to see if our school was right, and good enough, for her child. Bravo to her for advocating for something different and special for her child - after all aren't our children the most important asset we have as parents, and as educators dedicated to making the world a better place. How would YOU answer the following questions?

1. What are the school policies on music, art, recess and pe (how much are they alloted each week? is exclusion from these programs used as a discipline method?)

2. In regards to classroom discipline, is there a schoolwide policy, or do teachers select their own classroom discipline method. For example: Great Expectations, Canter Method, Pulling Cards...etc.)

3. What curriculum has the school adopted in math, reading/phonics?

4. What amount of emphasis is placed in the areas of science and social studies?

5. For your school, what is the predominant theory of education that is being used, progressivist, social reconstructivist...etc.

6. Classroom instruction...(would you consider it to be more constructivist or traditional)

7. How heavily do the teachers rely on textbooks?

8. What is the policy in regards to the use of worksheets?

9. What is the school's policy in regards to assigning homework?

10. In your opinion, outside of test scores, why is Chet's Creek an A+ school?

I love our school and I believe in public education with all my heart. It has been critical throughout my entire career to educate them all - even the toughest ones. If public education is to survive we all need to be prepared to answer questions like those above and more. Our answers shouldn't look like they would have 100 years, 50 years, 25 years, 10 years or even a year ago. I proudly answered each question about our school - there were no yes or no answers either. This parent wanted to know, really know, what we were about and she deserved more than the standard answer. By the way, we're hired! This family will be moving to the area in a month and buying a house in our attendance area. Her precious, valuable and deserving 5 year old will become a Creeker because WE offer more than the standard answer inside our classrooms each and every day.



Debbie Harbour said...

It is amazing how public education has changed even since I was a child. I believe that if you are doing the right thing for children then you can make anyone want to be a part of that. We do the right thing for kids every day! As I answered those questions, I confirmed that we are that kind of school. We are fortunate to have such a large group of teachers who believe and value the same thing.

dayle timmons said...

Did you happen to mention to this new Creeker's mom what happens when the Principal's away?!

Melanie Holtsman said...

I am so proud to have my own kids attend our school! I'm sure with more and more of what we do being posted online, prospective parents will also be shopping our school by what we do there.

Thanks for the reminder that we need to be conversant about our practice and our school policies. I feel so fortunate to work at such a special school.

Anonymous said...

Ome of the things that makes us unique is how parents are not only hired (paras, office staff, teachers) but encouraged to volunteer often in the school. They become a measure of quality assurance. Some schools don't let parents in (or not very often) and only for controlled/scripted activities. We stand behind our product and embrace the consumers rather than hide from them. The schools that I'm referring to (some of them) are very close to ours geographically - certainly in our little region. I would love to see a parade of parents of private school kids come through our doors and see how many of them pull their kids from the public school and save lots of money, to come to our public school. I bet many of them would if they came inside our doors. -Karen Morris

Mrs. Nash said...

I don't know if anyone else watches CBS Sunday Morning, but it is a tradition in my household, and the households of my siblings and parents. (Excellent show -- worth watching, if you've never seen it.) Regardless, last week (I believe) they did a segment very closely related to this topic and home schooling. As we watched it, I recalled some of your message from the first day -- public school is in endangered. I am proud that we are thinking of this, and extremely thankful that my daughter(s) will be able to attend CCE. I feel confident we will continue moving forward with the school's mission and evolving. However, I am already fearful for the steps beyond CCE. Will this message make it to our students' future educators?? What is their destiny after CCE?

Suzanne said...

I remember the first years at Chets when TS stood in front of the faculty and said we were building a school for our own children, and our own child should be able to be in any of our rooms. I am so proud that now, 11 years later, how true that is. My own children have been so blessed!

Also, funny you should mention that parents are shopping schools. At the end of last year, I toured MANY parents through our hallways and classrooms, and one turned to me and said, "Are you sure this is a public school?" I assured him this all came for free and it is as good as it looked. Later in the visit, he said, "Why am I paying for private school?" Am I allowed to say to a parent, "Because you are crazy?" :)

Melanie Holtsman said...

You SHOULD say that, Suzanne!

Anonymous said...

Wow! This post leaves me with so much to contemplate.

I too feel very blessed to be a part of an oustanding educational community. I have been absolutely blessed to have my daughter held tightly by said communtiy. I am proud that I have played a role in helping children and families develop as learners. I also know, without any doubt, that being at CCE has given me advantages that other teachers do not get. I am in an environment that fosters life-long learning:-}

However, I stand in absolute horror at the thought of the polorization of the public school system. The gap between the haves and have-nots seems to be expanding daily into our arena, and that is sad. It is true that in a perfect world this availibility of information would cause other public schools to rally and build more competetive places of learning, but I think that most people would agree that the move towards quality has been slow and usually not on a schoolwide basis, rather limited to individuals that are risk takers.

How do we fix that?

I am glad that another child will have the ooportunity to grow up "Chets", and I am sad that others, without the means, without the availibility of information, and without a knowledgable advocate will not.



Mrs. Snead said...

Education has certainly changed! And one thing that seems to be a constant is that it is still changing. I like the fact that our focus is on the WHOLE child for the current times. I just wish we went all the way to 12th grade!

Anonymous said...

Wanted to add, that I CANNOT wait for my little one to be able to come here next year as a K student. I am thrilled to be able to work and also to give her that opportunity. Being here for my 2nd school year, I could not even imagine sending her somewhere else. KAS

Anonymous said...

I am proud to be apart of an awesome school like CCE!

Teach to Learn said...

Thank you for such an insightful post. I recently sat in on a conference to interpret in Spanish for a family whose little girl is adjusting to school in the United States. The family suggested that the teacher should seat the little girl in the front seat of the class (front row) so that she can be more attentive. I thought about their request and smiled gratefully. I proceeded to express how our school is not like school was for so many of us. That their child was part of a community of learners. That there is no front of the classroom. That learning is an organic process based on qualitative and quantitative information and standards. That communication and participation from our families is elemental in the success of our students. That the team of educators sitting amongst us in this Target meeting strive to do the best for all children and to support classroom instruction. That our principal is a life-long learner who motivates us to want to be the best for our children. I am very proud to be part of THIS public school where we truly strive to leave no one behind.

Moena said...

This blog brings back so many memories for me, Susan. Just like Suzanne said, parents often asked me last year "is this really a public school?" My typical answer was yes- and every other public school should be providing the same level of service. Chets is a great place for the entire community and I feel so blessed that my child was able to be a part of the Chets Community!