Selected readings on US charter schools
Staff at Franklin Key to Learning Charter School said they’re not disappointed to lose their charter status and consider themselves to be frontrunners who first thought to combine a string of social, emotional and academic teaching models in order to create a well-rounded, nurturing school culture.
“Franklin didn’t come up with all these ideas, but certainly putting them all together was unique,” principal Jami Kohl said.
The school board unanimously approved dissolving the charter last week. The vote is the latest in a series of moves away from charter schools despite a growing school choice movement driven by parents demanding more options.
The board dissolved Merrill Elementary School’s healthy living charter in July 2010 after deciding it showed no evidence of improving student learning. District administrators are currently debating whether to cancel the charter for ALPS, an accelerated learning program, in favor of converting it to a magnet school. And, the district has abandoned plans for creating a fine arts charter school and a science, technology, engineering and math charter school.
The district has two other existing charter schools, including Oakwood Environmental Education Charter School and Jacob Shapiro Brain Based Instruction School. However, there has been some discussion about changes at Jacob Shapiro as well.
Director of Curriculum and Assessment Julie Mosher said the state has added new regulations for charter schools in recent years that the district believes are too restrictive. For example, all new charters must be stand-alone schools, meaning they must have a separate building and identity. Schools within schools — such as ALPS, which is housed in the same building as Merrill Elementary and Middle Schools — are no longer allowed. Grant money that comes with starting a new charter school isn’t enough to build, buy or rent new space, Mosher said.
“When you accept money you have to abide by the rules of the money you’re taking. You really have to know what you’re being held accountable to before accepting the money,” she said.
The district has continued to add alternative education options, including an online virtual academy and a community-based learning school, but chose not to label them as charter schools.
Franklin was chartered in 2007 before the state tightened its regulations, Kohl said.
The school centered on three ideas: showing kids how to resolve conflicts, fostering a family-like sense of community and teaching lessons through a process of self-discovery.
“These three things together make for the most safe, dynamic and collaborative classroom,” said first grade teacher Marni Burton, who helped establish the charter. “It’s all about getting kids to take ownership of themselves, their community and their learning.”
In recent years, the district has made all three of those concepts standard practice in every school, although the specific programs and models used may differ. For example, Franklin started using a program called Restorative Justice, which encourages having empathy for one another, to teach conflict resolution to students. The district now requires a similar program called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.
“Franklin was ready to take off and go with it and integrate those things in their Key to Learning charter. It felt very different at the time,” Mosher said. “Would we have done it (district-wide) eventually? Yes. But Franklin was like that laboratory going out and doing it first.”
Kohl said the biggest impact the charter has had on Franklin is to create a safe, inviting atmosphere for students.
“Research tells us it’s all about relationships. If you have positive relationships where kids want to be here because they enjoy it and feel safe, they will do much better. Without that positive community feeling, it’s more difficult to produce lots of learning,” she said.
Source: Oshkosh Hub – by Adam Rodewald