Hi, I’m Angela. I’m the proud mother of two public charter school students–one in high school and the other in elementary. I’d like to take this time to bust some myths about charter schools.
First things first: charter schools are always public schools. They are high-quality, free, unique schools that are open to all students regardless of zip code, race, economic background, or prior academic record. There are no entrance exams or auditions required. What makes a charter school different from a district school is the flexibility and autonomy in running the school, allowing for more innovation, personalized curriculum, and learning environments that welcome all students.
Why did my family choose a charter school?
My oldest son never fit into the pre-determined box of the traditional educational model. Starting in school, I was told he was too loud, easily distracted, and that I should prepare myself for some type of attention deficit disorder diagnosis. I did not see any of this. Sure, he was a busy little boy, but he did not seem to struggle with concentration or behavior maintenance. He loved books and reading. He was curious about science and how things worked. In fact, he was (and still is) a well-behaved, academically motivated kid!
Since he was so curious about science and math, I hoped the local district elementary (a STEM magnet school) would be the answer. There, I was met with more concern in all parent/teacher conferences. “Your son probably has some type of ADHD. He’s very loud, talks too much, and gets distracted. But he seems pretty smart. He’s at or above grade level in everything and does good work.”
I struggled with what to do with this information. As parents, I know we all have this feeling at one time or another. We want to do what is best for our kids.
If my son was succeeding academically AND he was NOT formally diagnosed with a behavioral problem or getting into trouble, what was the “problem?” What’s more–I was not offered any potential solutions or pathways to help the “problem.” If you’re confused by these remarks and how to figure out a behavioral path for a non-problem child, you can imagine how I felt.
At the time, I did not know there were other public school options. I felt stuck and always worried about my son. Despite being self-conscious about constantly being told to be quiet, he luckily still liked going to school and enjoyed his schoolwork. Then, my son’s fifth grade teacher opened a door for me. This teacher, who will always hold a special place in my heart, told me, “Your son does not have attention problems. He’s just bored and needs to be challenged.” She encouraged me to look at charter schools for middle school to give my son the learning environment he needed.
When she suggested a charter school, I had so many questions. Can I afford it? What’s the process to get in? How do I even find a charter school?
I know a lot of parents may have the same questions, so let me answer those now. No, a charter school is not a private school. There is no cost to attend–it’s tuition-free! Charter schools do not pre-select who can enroll. All charter schools have an open enrollment policy subject to an admissions lottery.
I’m sure you’ve heard of someone who tried to get into a charter school, but they were not selected in the lottery. Some charter schools have an enrollment cap, meaning they have a maximum number of students they can serve. This means not everyone who fills out an enrollment application gets in because there just aren’t enough seats. This is why charter schools are subject to open lottery policies for admission. All applicants go into a pool and are drawn blindly for admission. If 100 kids apply for fifth grade and there are only 50 open spots, the first 50 names drawn are eligible for enrollment, and the other 50 are placed on a waitlist.
Our family’s journey into the charter world began with a search. We looked up charter schools, we toured charter schools, we asked questions, and we researched. Moreover, we received welcoming answers from these schools! My son’s eyes and ears would light up as he heard about the different school programs, their missions, and school visions. It was truly inspiring to watch my soon-to-be middle schooler get excited for school all over again like a kindergartener. The schools we looked at had higher academic expectations and a college/career focus.
My son and I were able to CHOOSE which program better suited him and where HE was most interested in going to school.
This focused work fit my son beautifully. I no longer was told that he was too loud or easily distracted in conferences. Instead, we discussed solutions to keep him focused. Turns out, he was just getting bored and needed more challenging work. The school’s engagement with my son on this new level changed his academic trajectory. In our charter school, we found a home and my son has found academic purpose, success, and direction.
That’s the story of just one of my kids. As the Field Director of Public Charter Schools of New Mexico, I am blessed to hear and share other New Mexico parent and student voices telling their inspiring stories about charter schools. There are nearly 100 charter schools in New Mexico serving almost 30,000 students! Each family has a story and a reason for choosing a charter school. Thankfully, public charter schools provide more educational choices for families–and that’s a fact.
The day I started looking at charter schools is the day I became an advocate. I am a loud and proud supporter of school choice. All kids deserve a quality education in a school environment that fits their needs–and I believe this is possible!