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My view: Charter schools meet unique needs

12:24 PM, Mar. 12, 2013  |  Comments
Carrie Bonk
Carrie Bonk
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Every child in our state has the right to a quality education.

We all have witnessed the great amount of debate in recent years about the best way to educate our students, and without a doubt, this debate will continue. But while those involved in the discussion cannot always agree on how we should get from point A to point B, if we all step back there are several areas where we can all agree: we want all Wisconsin children to receive a quality education.

We need to continue the conversation to improve our educational landscape and recognize students are all different from each other - and therefore learn in different ways.

This final point is where charter schools excel. Because of these differences in the ways students learn, there is a need for quality options in our schools. There cannot be a "one size fits all" mentality about public education; each family needs to be able to find the best fit for their child in public education. To say our state needs charter schools is an understatement.

A charter school education can be quite unique, matching the unique needs of our children. Across the state we see a wide range of charter schools: some are project-based and emphasize hands-on learning, some immerse students in a foreign language or offer a rich global or classical curriculum, some are STEM schools (science, technology, engineering, math), and some infuse a great deal of arts around a more traditional curriculum.

Some charter schools bring their students out into the "real world" so they can work collaboratively with local community members. And while I've only skimmed the surface of the types of charter schools in Wisconsin, I hope I've started to paint a picture of the innovation and options available to families across the state

Here in the Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids area, residents are fortunate to have schools such as Vesper Community Academy and THINK Academy - schools like these truly offer options in public education for families. Keep in mind that at these schools all traditional academic skills are covered, and students take part in all state-wide tests, but there are definitely unique qualities about each of these schools. (I encourage you to go online to research them and learn more.)

Charter schools are tuition-free, non-sectarian public schools that offer choices in education to families. Charter schools are publicly funded and are open to all students. Each school has a charter, or performance contract, detailing its program, goals, and methods of assessment. Charter schools operate with increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability.

Simply stated, charter schools can be closed if they are not measuring up to the charter. They are accountable for academic results, fiscal practices and managerial standards to several groups: the authorizer that grants the charter, the parents who choose to send their children, and the public at large that funds them.

In addition, open enrollment in our state is now through April 30, and during this time, parents can apply for their children to attend school districts other than the one in which they reside. This is a perfect opportunity for parents to find and apply for enrollment to the public charter school that is the best match for their children, regardless of where the school is located. For some families, a public charter school will be an excellent choice.

Is a charter school the right option for every student? No, it isn't - as mentioned before, different students learn in different ways. But it is an option, and it is imperative that all of us around the state are aware of charter schools and have an understanding of what they offer as part of Wisconsin's educational landscape.

Carrie Bonk is executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association.

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