Education Special Section
UNDERSTANDING CHARTER SCHOOLS AND THE VALUE OF SCHOOL CHOICE by Drew Goodson, Principal, Mission Heights Preparatory High School
Overall, Arizona and Casa Grande is blessed to have the tremendous freedom of school choice.
ne of the best things Arizona offers for families is school choice. While our state is often criticized for low performance in national academic rankings, one thing that we do have to our great advantage is that our charter school laws are fair and among the most positive in the country. This has allowed for charter schools to become prevalent in our state and our community, which in turn allows parents to have a very powerful resource – options for where to send their child. Casa Grande is a great example of this, as there are many great traditional and charter school options, including my own school, Mission Heights Preparatory High School. So what exactly are charter schools and how do they differ from a traditional district schools? A charter school is a public school that operates separate from a district, on a “charter,” granted by the state. The charter is essentially an agreement to allow a school to open and operate by the state in exchange for meeting certain performance standards. Almost anyone can apply for a charter, but only those that show a strong plan or a history of meeting performance goals can be issued one by the state. Charter schools do not have a school board but are held accountable by both the Arizona Department of Education and the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, which frequently assess the performance and viability of each school. This means charter schools are allowed more freedom to operate but they are still held to high standards. While charter schools are public schools, they very different from traditional public schools. Perhaps the biggest difference is size. Most charter schools are much smaller than traditional schools. This difference is primarily based on how each type of school is funded. Traditional schools receive capital funding from our tax dollars for things like building expenses and transportation. This allows for the building of large schools with impressive facilities and the ability to transport many students. Charter schools do not receive capital funding, but are given money by the state on a per-pupil basis per school year. This means the size of the school and facility offered is really limited to the amount of students who attend. The more students who enroll, the larger the facility that the school can operate, but since enrollment numbers can vary and there is no capital funding to back things up, charter schools tend to stay smaller
in size. However, the smaller size of charter schools is perhaps one of our biggest strengths as it allows us to have a central focus, rather than to trying to offer something for everyone. Most charter schools seem to specialize in a certain area. For example, there are few charter schools in Casa Grande that specialize in credit recovery. They are designed to help students earn back lost credits as quickly as possible to get back on track to graduate. My school’s focus is college preparation. Our program is for students who want an extra challenge and we help make sure they are truly prepared for college. They go through rigorous classes, have nightly homework and have a higher credit requirement for graduation. This is all explained to them when they enroll and students choose to come for these reasons. Another advantage of a smaller school is the personal experience we can offer. At a school of just 400 students, all of the staff truly gets to know the students on our campus. We become almost like family, which has tremendous advantages in the classroom and campus-wide. When students have a strong relationship with their teachers, they are more eager to learn and try new things. Also, when they feel connected with the campus, they want to make sure we maintain a positive and happy atmosphere. I feel these are the key reasons why we have an excellent safety record and our AzMERIT test scores are well above state averages in most categories. Overall, Arizona and Casa Grande is blessed to have the tremendous freedom of school choice. Whether it is a large district school with fantastic facilities and many programs to offer or a small focused charter school with a family atmosphere, the best thing for families is that you get to choose.
School Choices continued on page 84 74
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Summer 2016 Vol II