"This is not about choice or charter schools, it's about usurping local control." This is the resounding cry from those who want to see the charter amendment fail on Nov. 6th. The argument should not be about money, power and control, but about liberating families from the educational inequities that exist in so many of our communities.
Across Georgia, hundreds if not thousands of students are stuck in poor performing schools because their families cannot afford to move. I believe that access to a quality public education is a civil rights imperative that should not depend on income or address. Our children deserve better.
The claims that more charter schools will dismantle and segregate public education and cause teachers to lose their jobs are attempts to evoke fear and hysteria. There are several other states that have multiple authorizers, and all of them have higher achievement and graduation rates than Georgia.
There has been no dismantling of public education in Michigan where public universities can authorize charter schools. There has been no re-segregation of schools in Massachusetts, Arizona or Ohio; where there are independent and appointed boards that authorize charter schools. In those states, great charter schools are helping to transform urban and underserved communities by eliminating the achievement gap. But it appears that opponents here in Georgia only want choice offered for those who can afford it.
This issue has exposed a disturbing double standard. The number of individuals who oppose the amendment, but have personally benefited from school choice has amazed me. Some of the loudest critics, including state legislators, leaders of state teacher's associations and school board members, have chosen to send their own children to private, magnet and theme schools because they thought they were better options than their zoned neighborhood schools.
I am a mother and former Gwinnett County Public Schools educator who chose to live and work in Gwinnett County because of its selection of schools. I have worked with amazing educators over the years -- teachers and leaders who were caring, compassionate and committed to our profession and to the students we served. However, many of our students required more structure, time and support than our traditional public setting allowed.
I saw that need in my own family.
Both of our sons graduated from a public Gwinnett County School, and have performed well in college. However, a traditional public school was not the right fit for our daughter. She needed smaller class sizes, fewer distractions and individualized attention. She struggled in our large neighborhood public school. But since enrolling in Ivy Prep she has become a much stronger and more confident student. So many girls like my daughter have come to Ivy Prep and blossomed into scholars.
For some it is the first time that have they experienced academic success and have produced test scores that consistently meet and exceed standards. For others, it has provided a single-gender environment that is free from the social and emotional distractions that are common in large co-ed schools.
I believed that offering an option to the families that I'd met during my nearly 10 years as a GCPS educator would only complement the educational programs that already existed in our district. I set out to study more, visit great schools, write a petition and partner with my district. I truly believed that the educators in Gwinnett that I respected and worked with for so long would see our model as a positive addition to our community. Unfortunately, from the moment that Ivy Prep was proposed to GCPS until today, we have been embroiled in conflict around whether or not we should exist.
In the past five years, Gwinnett Schools has denied, sued, approved and then underfunded us in an attempt to close our doors. The charter amendment is necessary to prevent these barriers from impeding the reform that is needed in our community
It is time to end this fight over power, control and money and focus on the needs of the students we are supposed to protect and serve. Our future and our children can't wait.
Nina Gilbert is executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academy.