Duluth parent Russ Kurhajetz asked the local superintendent an important question, something families and educators might want to consider. He asked why he should send his kids to their school system.
The reaction? Kurhajetz explained: “I received zero responses. Either their processes were broken or they felt they were entitled to my kids. Either way, I knew I needed something different. I then found Duluth Edison Charter Schools.”
This is not a column about charter public schools, although the number of Minnesota students attending charters has grown from about 17,500 in 2004-05 to about 50,800 in the current school year, according to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools (http://bit.ly/1NB0EKT).
My central point is about asking the important question that Kurhajetz asked and receiving a good answer.
In writing this column, I looked at 34 district and charter public school websites. Each website had news about the school or district. Some described awards students or schools received. Some included information about academic progress. Sometimes the website described sports and other extra-curricular programs.
For example, the Forest Lake Area Schools website contains, among other things, information about sports programs, a referendum and honors for a retiring coach. North Lakes Academy, a charter in Forest Lake, describes on its website a blood drive, college and career planning information and offers a link to an application for admission. The Hopkins Public Schools home page includes information about honors for local teachers, students who have received athletic scholarships and a Spanish language immersion program. Little Falls Community Schools’ home page discusses the testing program, summer activities, a no-hitter thrown by a local student and needs of Lincoln Elementary School.
But not a single website explicitly listed, at least on its home page, something like “5 reasons to send your child to this school (or district).”
To be fair, most (but not all) websites had a “contact us” button. But even after pushing that button, not a single website included something like “please contact this person if you would like to discuss why our district/school could be a great place for your child/children.”
Some districts, charters, private and parochial schools take extra steps to help families understand why their schools could be a good match. In 2008, district, charter, private and parochial schools in the Forest Lake area collaborated on a school choice fair. I wrote about it here: http://bit.ly/1VBIQaY.
Then I attended. Hundreds of students and their parents showed up. Several local businesses contributed food, so families were able to feed their family as they learned about schools. Many parents told me they learned a lot that evening.
I asked Cam Stottler, executive director of North Lakes Academy, about this. NLA was the lead organizer of the fair. He wrote that the school “decided to allocate time and energy into more specific NLA recruitment and retention efforts.”
When contacted, Forest Lake Superintendent Linda Madsen responded via email: “We were not the original organizers, and I am guessing, that for some reason, they decided not to pursue it any longer. We did participate and likely would again if it were to occur.”
Minneapolis district and charter schools have cooperated for years on a school choice fair, usually held in January. St. Paul also did this until this year, when district officials decided to limit the fair just to district schools. In response, St. Paul area charters held their own fair.
A school choice fair can be very useful. But it’s not the only way to share information with families.
Nevertheless, more and more families are thinking about the question that Kurhajetz asked. Many families have selected a day care or nursery school for their youngsters. They are used to making choices. And if they decide to do so, educators can help families make more informed decisions.
“Why should I send my children to your school?” It’s a great question. It deserves an answer.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].