I recently returned to my hometown of the Limitless Decatur, Illinois, with my family in tow. One of the challenges in relocating is finding a school for my 4th grade daughter and 6th grade son – school choice. They have been enrolled in schools in Illinois, Tennessee and Mississippi so choosing a school is not easy, but definitely not new. And, if you are wondering, nope – no military service we just live a slightly adventurously nomadic lifestyle.
As I began to research the schools in Decatur Public School District 61 (DPS61), which I am a proud 1990 graduate of, we discussed and settled on two possibilities and decided that my husband and I would schedule visits. As we sought to schedule our visits, what we found was while we have a Decatur address we are actually zoned for Mt. Zion Public Schools. That was a bit of surprise, not unusual, but still a surprise nevertheless. So, my focus shifted to researching to understand Mt. Zion Public Schools.
It really started me to thinking more about school choice on a local scale and the longstanding discussion about school choice nationally. Broadly and simply, the definition of school choice is directly tied to public money following students to schools and/or programs that is believed to better meet the needs of the student. And, there is a position in favor of or against vouchers, charter schools, school choice within districts, tax credits, magnet schools, education savings accounts, and all other forms of modifications under the heading of school choice.
As a parent, I struggle with the concept, with the terminology, and with the overall discussion of what school choice is and really what it means to and for me. The national verbiage and local discussion of school choice has never crossed my mind in making any educational decision for my kids.
School choice has meant that I am empowered to be an active part of the process in the school building and the system in which my kids are a part. I have told EVERY teacher that has had the privilege of teaching the Morris 2 that there is no way on this planet that they can educate my kids without me. It is my responsibility to support the educational process of the school that our family selects. Believe it or not, every educational outfit does not welcome parent participation or involvement. I know – crazy right!
School choice has meant that a public school may be the best fit. A private school may be the best fit. A charter school may be the best fit. A single-sex school may be the best fit. A Montessori school may be the best fit. A magnet school may be the best fit. A neighborhood school may be the best fit. A Christian school may be the best fit. For me, school choice means just that … the ability to choose, without restriction, the best fit for my child.
School choice has meant the ability to remove my kids from any environment that is not conducive to learning and has the possibility of doing more damage than good whether it is on the first day, in the first month or the first half of the year. There are things that happen, while they may be part of the educational process, can have a long-term and severe impact the self-esteem of a child. When a teacher tests my daughter and begins to make plans to put her in ‘special groups,’ ‘special needs,’ ‘special break-outs,’ special anything without consultation with her parents … I, as her parent, have the right to raise hell, take her to task and remove my daughter not only from the classroom but from the school. When a teacher tells me that my (gifted) son may not pass a grade because he can’t pass a timed multiplication test my commitment to my kids and the choice that I have made for their education tells me to unapologetically share with his teacher … try it and I wish you good luck.
School choice means that we are able to tour the schools, to ask questions, to meet teachers and staff. Not just my child’s teachers, but other teachers in the building as well – the community. School choice means I am able to ask the staff at Mt. Zion Intermediate School how many other black kids are enrolled – and receive a candid and honest answer followed by a discussion about the environment and cultural climate. School choice means selecting the culture and climate that will best suit my child at that time.
School choice rests with harnessing the power and the desire of the parent to want what is in the best educational interest of their child. I know that all circumstances are different. I also understand that the value of education in one household may be different than the next. The ability to change schools may be elusive to some. But, the one constant that is able to impact any school is harnessing and focusing the power of a collective group of parents/guardians/families of those enrolled in the school buildings – not any appointed Secretary of Education. Not tax incentives or education savings accounts. It’s the community. And sometimes the collective community has to redefine choice. What’s being offered? Who’s selecting what choice and why?
Last Day of 2016-2017 School Year!!! Let the summer break begin!!!
Well this most recent school year we did chose Mt. Zion Public Schools and I have been asked countless times … how did I choose Mt. Zion. When asked, I always hear ‘why didn’t you choose DPS61?’
The choice was not in opposition to Decatur Public Schools or local private and parochial schools. Ultimately we chose Mt. Zion Public Schools because it was important that our kids be given the opportunity to develop a sense of community. Having attended schools in a multiple states over a short span of time, community is something they have not been afforded. Here, my daughter sees her classmates out playing when she walking the dog. They are developing a common bond among classmates and create some childhood memories with neighborhood friends.
Today … school choice for the Morris 2 is defined as… the development of a sense of stability and community internal and external to school that supports the pursuit of academic excellence. Will that change or will we make another choice … absolutely!