RALEIGH – The rain on Tuesday morning did not dampen the spirits of more than 100 parents, students, teachers, and other supporters of school choice in N.C. Just as the skies were clearing, the crowd piled into the auditorium at the N.C. Museum of History for a rally to recognize national School Choice Week. The event was one of 1,025 events across the state this week to raise awareness and celebrate the growing prominence of charter and magnet schools across the state.
“We participate in National School Choice Week to bring awareness to those who live in our seven-county service area. NSCW is a great way for schools to market themselves and show communities that they do have a choice in educating their children,” said Jason K. Wynne, head of school at Lawrence Academy, a private independent school serving 231 students in grades K-12 in Merry Hill, NC.
N.C. is among the states with the fastest growing public charter school system, particularly after a cap on the number of public charter schools was lifted last year. At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, 90,000 of N.C.’s students attend one of the state’s 173 public charter schools. Organizers of School Choice Week say the week is not political and not just about public charter schools, but to raise awareness among parents and policy makers of the various educational options in N.C. to help families customize their child’s education.
“We use our technology to personalize our news, our social media… you can even personalize your fast food order…. It’s time we personalize education,” said Mark Johnson, superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Schools.
“School choice means charter schools, it means private schools, it also means magnet schools… whether students choose to go to a school that focuses on arts, or STEM courses; it means our cooperative and innovative high schools, it means homeschool and online options like N.C. Virtual Public Schools,” he added. “We are working hard in your N.C. Department of Public Instruction to bring those options and choices to all students across the entire state.”
Supporters say the increased options will help N.C. students and families find the right educational environment for them.
“We are focused on providing those opportunities for students because we know that not all students learn the same way,’ said Rhonda Dillingham, executive director of the N.C. Association for Public Charter Schools. “And every child deserves an effective, challenging education so that they can be equipped to achieve their dreams.”
Jacob Vaughan, a junior at Bear Grass Charter School in Bear Grass, N.C. was enjoying the trip to N.C.’s capital with the rest of his school’s marching band, excited to kick off the event by playing the national anthem. He hopes to study music at ECU after graduation from his 350-student public charter school.
“I feel like we have a more inclusive experience,” said Vaughan. “We are smaller so everyone knows each other and everyone is nice to each other. Everyone intertwines and we don’t really have cliques.”
Dilligham said that part of the goals of the week are to open the dialogue on school choice among supporters of all kinds of education options. The advocates will also be talking to legislators about improving transportation funding for charter schools and other key issues.
She also said that they have some supporters in state government, like Johnson and Lt. Governor Dan Forest whose goal is to have 20 more public charters open in low-income areas across the state, but she said they were disappointed in the response from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office when they asked for a proclamation in honor of School Choice Week.
“About three weeks ago I was informed by the governor’s office that he had no plans to do that,” she said in an interview. “Of course, the people that I represent in the state were upset to hear that so I encourage them to reach out to the governor’s office and let him know that charter schools are a viable option here in N.C. and we aren’t going anywhere. In fact we are only growing and we expect to exceed 200 charter schools in the state by 2019.”