Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Parents Should Be Able to Choose the Learning Environments That Best Align With Their Children’s Needs

It’s all about the children.

Adults can debate education policy endlessly, but at the end of the day, we need to remember that learning institutions share the same purpose: to educate children and make sure their needs are met.

Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, I attended traditional public schools, and I really enjoyed that experience. I played with our school’s band and received a full band scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I taught music in the traditional public school system in Little Rock. So, I’m not here to say anything negative about traditional public schools.

What I am saying is this: Parents know their children, and they need to be able to choose the learning environments that best align with their children’s needs.

After teaching in the Little Rock School District, I went on to serve as the assistant principal at eStem Public Charter Schools in Little Rock. Now, I am the principal of Friendship Aspire Academy Public Charter School in Pine Bluff. When I first left the traditional public school system, a lot of people were unhappy with me because there are lot of things that people don’t understand (or misunderstand) about charter schools.

It’s true that as an employee of a charter school, I have more freedom in the classroom. I have the resources that I need and the autonomy that I want to be able to lead, based on research and based on experience. I have the autonomy to do what I know is right for children.

That additional freedom doesn’t mean that charter schools aren’t held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, though. If anything, charter schools are held to stricter standard, because we receive less funding to do the same job. We have to monitor and report data on student enrollment and attendance throughout the year, and our students are subject to the same testing as traditional schools. We receive letter grades just like traditional districts. We have to keep the same standards up with the extra pressure of knowing that we are not guaranteed to be open tomorrow. We should all operate under that same pressure. All Arkansas’s districts should be held to the same accountability; all of us should be held to the fire to do what we signed up to do.

One positive aspect about charter schools is that when they write their charters, they have the ability to organize around a distinctive vision. It has to be something the organization is really passionate about, that’s really going to drive the mission and vision forward. Because of that, some charter schools, like the ones that I have worked at and am working at now, really have an increased focus on the whole child – addressing the students social emotional needs, as well as the academic needs.

So, charter schools provide options for parents that need that. Parents just need to take time to investigate the mission and vision of the different schools to see which one fits the needs of their child. They should look for evidence of recent and prior students’ success. Most importantly, parents, know your child and know you child’s needs, and go with the option that aligns with your child’s needs.

We’re all in it to provide different options for children.

An original version of this piece appeared at The Reform Alliance.

Jherrithan Dukes
Jherrithan Dukes is a Little Rock native. His passion for music paved the way for him to receive a full band scholarship to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He graduated with honors from UAPB with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and went to work for the Little Rock School District. Dukes went on to serve as assistant principal at eStem Public Charter Schools. He is now the principal at Friendship Aspire Academy Pine Bluff. Dukes now holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is pursuing an Educational Doctorate in Transformational Leadership.

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