Public or Charter: The Road to Finding the Right Fit for my Children


By: Jennifer Russon

Being a parent today is a lot harder than it was 30 years ago, and the difference is most noticeable when we educate our children.

I attended public schools in the 1980s to early 1990s back in central Florida, and in all those years my parents, like most parents back then, were not expected to be my advocate, help me progress in my classes, or give any thought to whether my teacher was doing a good job. There was just this expectation that everything would work out—a good thing, as parents and students had to make the best of the one school they were allowed to attend.

Today, parental involvement has everything to do with children’s academic success. If a child does poorly on the FCAT, fingers are pointed more at the parent than the school. Society may frown on helicoptering, but can most of us imagine not signing off on our children’s homework?

And look at all the choices. If a parent doesn’t like the school, they can leave.

Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

Every time I turn around, a new charter school is opening, sending glossy brochures of students – stock photos, but nonetheless appealing, of kids in lab coats or enjoying algebra. And that’s when parents may find themselves at the open houses, registering for the new charter school’s lottery, and doing a lot of soul-searching about whether or not to abandon their public school.

I believe that for a community to work, its public schools need to work. That’s why I resisted those glossy brochures and continued to send my kids to, what I will call “the school down the street.”

Established in the 1970s, the school down the street was an A-rated school for decades until a recent drop to a C. I blamed it on the real estate crash in 2008 and the number of children on free and reduced lunch; things, at least to my mind, that should have no bearing on education.  It was other things that bothered me.

For example, my son got lost on his second day of Kindergarten. It was bound to happen to one of the students in his class. His teacher was on maternity leave, and the substitute failed to notice when he slipped out at dismissal and walked a mile off-campus. We found him, thank goodness, but the school felt it was my fault. My son had a shaky year with the substitute, who riddled class literature with typos. The more experienced teacher returned from maternity leave and finished out the year, but it was too late to change a bad first impression. I remained at the school down the street because kindergarten was just the beginning, and I believed things would get better.

Then my daughter entered kindergarten.

I took her to “the roundup” and was shocked when the secretary who handled registrations told me she wouldn’t register my daughter because I had arrived five minutes early to her window for registration.  Fortunately, I haven’t encountered such a nasty attitude since.

The worst experience of that academic year was because of my daughter’s teacher. In spite of her proven performance, the teacher disagreed that my daughter read at a third-grade level. Tracing letters and sounding them out was becoming too repetitive for her, so I asked the teacher for a level-appropriate curriculum. This made enemies to the point where I wish I had kept quiet about my precocious kindergartner. The teacher advised me not to worry; that my daughter’s skills were likely to taper off and her peers would catch up.

ESE staff eventually did a gifted screening, interrupted by a fire drill. Her test results were average. I later sought a complete round of IQ testing. Sufficed to say, those results were significantly higher than the school down the street.

Despite it all, I stayed because my son had a fantastic teacher that year. I did a lot of volunteering and saw that first-hand. I promised that teacher that I would ask the principal if she could teach my daughter when the time came. The principal said no.

That was the deal-breaker.

This breaks my heart in many ways. My property taxes that help fund public schools are not cheap. I will miss the two-minute ride to school as the new route will now take 20 minutes. But I can be optimistic; the charter school that has accepted my kids is doing amazing things in California, and the recruiters and principal hosting the first open house were very effective in convincing me they can do the same in Broward County. I had been to other open houses, but this one impressed me more than the rest. The principal has a Doctorate in Education or Ed.D., and is friendly, genuine, and honest with the parents. The recruiters visiting from the California campus are proud to send their own children to this school, which speaks volumes when you consider that, here in South Florida,  an owner of a major charter school chooses to send his own children to private schools.

I am very excited to start this journey. Sure the piles of spirit shirts from the school down the street make me sad, but it’s simply time to move on. 

Jen Russon is a freelance blogger for healthcare staffing companies, as well as an editor at From Nana’s Kitchen With Love. She lives in Coral Springs, Florida.     

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