charterschoolsIt’s the first day of school! 

And this year our teen bids adieu to the neighboring public high school and starts her sophomore year in a Charter Prep school.

Now this was not an easy decision. Financially, it made a lot more sense for her to continue onto the public high school where she started her freshman year because this is where our State and City tax dollars go. It is a reputable school with all the buildings refurbished so everything, including the equipment, is new. The STAR rating performance is competitive, the API score is at 880, and it is right along the other excelling performances of the other schools in the valley. In addition, it was included in last year’s U.S. News and World Report list of the best public high schools in California. It is clearly a wonderful school.

However, at the end of the school year our daughter was urging us to look into schools that offer ‘block scheduling’. We asked her to explain.

blockschedBlock scheduling is a type of high school class scheduling wherein the subjects are instructed every other day, but the classes are instructed longer at nearly two hours. This was different from the current offering of the public high school in which all subjects are taught daily for 50 to 55 minutes and homework is immediately due the following day. Block scheduling is actually very similar to how college classes are held and the student is given more time to understand the material and two days to complete the home work.

As parents we like this idea. We felt it was a more conducive and effective way our child could learn. We often feel that the traditional way of covering the material for only under an hour may not be adequate enough to grasp the lesson and perform well in the homework. In fact, we often supplement our daughter’s learning with tutoring.

charterschoolNow that we were interested in block scheduling, the dilemma was which high schools near our area offered it? My initial research took me to the top performing high school in the next city, which is actually quite reputable among the California schools for receiving many distinctions and accolades.  The problem is our home is not part of the school zone and the wait list to attend it as outsiders of the zone is incredibly long. It would be next to impossible if we could get in.

Not one to give up, I continued my quest, and eventually found another reputable school in another neighboring city that was a Charter Prep High School that had open enrollment. We called and booked an appointment with the Principal for an interview and school tour. To surmise, the school provided more than our requirements:

  • Block scheduling – Classes grouped into Monday/Wednesday (4 classes meet  for 1 hour and forty-five minutes each)  and Tuesday/Thursday (4 classes meet for 1 hour and forty-five minutes each), and Fridays  all subjects meet for 55 minutes each.
  • The mission of the school is to PREPare the students for college. 94% of their recent set of senior graduates will be attending college.  
  • Smaller school environment. Average student-teacher ratio is 18:1. The school caps the ratio at 20:1.
  • Each student is given a laptop, which stores their school files, notes, and e-copies of their school books, etc.
  • School is run by a CMO non-profit public benefit corporation with a Board of Directors that runs several charter schools. The school is not subject to conform to the District’s way of traditional way instruction. They must still meet the California performance standards and accountability requirements like the other public schools, but they can provide other styles of learning and methodology.
  • This particular school delivers project-based learning. This particular type of learning means connect classroom learning to its applications in the outside world’
  • All the teachers are fully credentialed, are not part of a union, there are no seniority levels, are hired ‘at-will’, and their teaching evaluation is assessed yearly via a performance review. They are also required to stay one hour after school to hold office hours, tutoring, and parent-consultation (which is very similar to how college professors hold regular office hours).
  • Aside from the generally required base curriculum, there is a variety of  electives in the areas of music, arts, technology, and world languages. For example, when we toured their production studio it had all the advanced equipment (they even had the latest Camera Drone: DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter known for aerial footages…this really impressed my husband!).
  • They have a good selection of interscholastic athletic programs
  • Modern equipment, courses geared towards UC/CSU admission, and ability for advanced students to take college credits with college professors teaching several subjects a week within the school.
  • The school partnered with Choice Lunch, a company servicing fresh food  and the parents and kids get to choose what they want. The ingredients has no transfat, MSG, no high fructose corn syrup, and no artificial flavors or colors. The fruits and veggies are sourced from local farmers.

charterschoolAlthough this school clearly meets our needs and more, transferring our teen was not an easy decision. The school was from another city and it would be a major adjustment and continuous logistical planning to figure out how two working parents would bring and pick up our teen in the middle of the afternoon. From where we live the school was close. But from where we worked it was twice the distance and an enormous amount of traffic. There was no school bus offered. And the only public bus available would equate to 3 bus transfers and nearly two hours of commute time.

In the end, all of us, from my husband, myself, and our teen, decided we would find ways to make it work. Education is very important to our family and if our teen is telling us that this is what she really wants, then we will find ways to give it to her.

One of the feasible solutions is alternating on going to work at 6 a.m. so we can pick her up in the early afternoon when classes end. We are also fortunate to also ask help from our close by grandparents and grandaunts/uncles who may be able to help with the transportation from time to time. And we are also hoping to coordinate carpool methods with other parents who reside in our city.

Overall, our teen has already shown enthusiasm in this decision. After our meeting with the Principal, she immediately participated in the Volleyball try-outs before school even started. This week we learned she will be playing for Junior Varsity and she will be placed in the position she was hoping for – mid-center. She already made new friends. And was even invited by some to join their lunch table. We knew she would also miss her old schoolmates, and she actually got in touch with them to let them know she will be transferring school. But since they are still our neighbors they can always meet up in the week-ends.

So exciting times ahead as our family becomes part of the charter school system. And as dedicated parents we offered to also volunteer whenever we can to school events and look into any programs with our work that may offer high school summer internships, or do a career-talk with the students. We understand that we also have to play our role to help the school continue its path of success. So a toast to a new school! Go Hawks!

If you are interested in a Charter School, I have compiled some information for you to see. It helps to do your own research:

PBL: Project-Based Learning

 

What’s a Charter School anyway?

 Understanding a Charter School

 

What are your thoughts?

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