“School choice… it’s the way to go!”
That was the sentiment last week when Missouri parents, teachers, and administrators gathered in Kansas City for the 2017 Missouri Charter Public School Association Conference.
The conference featured a wide variety of speakers and workshops ranging from policy issues and best practices to a full day of teacher professional development, and gave charter school advocates a chance to network and share their successes.
A variety of speakers, including CEAM’s Peter Franzen and Rep. Rebecca Roeber, discussed the importance of expanding charter schools to other areas in Missouri, noting that not only did parents across the state deserve more educational options but that growing the charter school movement would also grow the number of parents and legislators concerned about supporting quality charter school education in the state.
The most important voices at the conference were the parents and teachers who shared how charter schools and school choice had changed their lives.
“The accountability for the parents to be able to say ‘this isn’t working for us’ and to actually see a change that’s the most I think motivating factor for my choice,” said Leslie Kohlmeyer, who has three children in charter schools. “Having one-on-one conversations about what’s going on with your child and how they best learn. I have a sixth grader an eighth grader now that speaks three languages.”
“There’s a lot more room to be an individual at a charter school versus a public school,” said Korey Beerbaur, who has a daughter in the third grade at a charter school. “She’s excited every day to go to school, she’s excited when she comes home. I like the fact that a kid can be their own individual self.”
Stephanie Ross, whose two children have both benefited from charter schools, said that charter schools had saved her youngest daughter.
“Prior to moving to a charter school I really thought that she was lost in the system and kind of gave up and thought she would not graduate,” said Ross. “She was denied an IEP twice and they told me that she just had behavior problems and needed to get organized. Once we moved to charter schools she was given an IEP and excelled and ended up on the “A-B” Honor Roll. It gave us both new hope and gave her kind of new life.”
Mikael Spears, who has 11 years of teaching experience, said moving to teach at a charter school had given him a similar path to professional rejuvenation.
“I feel like a first-year teacher again,” he said. “I feel the joy of educating. This is the first time in my career that I’ve been able to wake up and really feel excited about going to school. I’m looking forward to seeing how I grow as a teacher with all this freedom.”
“In a big school district, there are certain ways you have to do things, certain procedures you have to follow even just to read a storybook to a child. There was a lot of red tape around how to teach,” he added. ” If you are with a public school system and you feel like you’re being micromanaged, like you’re being put inside of a box and you feel like you’re not able to express yourself through your technique or through your craft then this is the perfect place to come and be yourself and have fun at your job.”
Parent after parent after parent said how happy they were that they had the choice to send their children to a charter school and how much they wished other parents in Missouri had the same choice.
“I think school choice, being able to choose a school that best suits your family that best suits your kids is so important,” said Kohlmeyer. “This whole idea that we have that our public school system is what’s best for every child, it’s outdated, it’s wrong. I think that charter schools give us the option of choosing how our kids best learn and what best suits our families.”
Several parents said they had moved specifically to have a charter school option but realized many parents did not have that option.
“That’s not fair especially when I see the change in the kids and I see how happy that all of them are,” said Beerbaur. “I would love every kid to be able to have the opportunity to go to a charter school if they wanted to.”
“They’re just kind of stuck with what they have,” agreed Ross. “School choice… it’s the way to go.”
“I think that it’s a disservice to our children for parents not to be able to hold schools accountable to do the best for their kids and to be able to choose the environment that’s going to work the best for their child to become the best citizen they can become,” said Kathryn Graham, a grandmother who has seen her granddaughter excel in charter schools. “It’s not that I don’t think public education has a place, it certainly does, but I think there are children that you’ll never know what their full potential is unless you can get them in an environment that’s going to click with the way they think.”
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