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National School Choice Week opens dialogue about public education opportunities

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On the way to New York is an old-fashioned whistle-stop tour to advocate for more options in education during National School Choice Week.

Andrew R. Campanella, president of the National School Choice Week organization, said he and more than 20 others are on a tour across America, driving from Florida, where the organization is based, through Texas, California and the Midwest and concluding in New York City. The week began Sunday.

“This is our fourth year. The movement started organically in 2011 with a small effort and 55 events around the country,” Mr. Campanella said. “This year there are thousands.”

The organization promotes education program choices. One option available in 21 states is traditional public schools with open enrollment, which allows parents to send their children to a public school in any district. Mr. Campanella said tax dollars for the students go to the schools they attend. Available in 42 states, public charter schools are independent but publicly funded schools allowed the freedom to educate in more innovative ways not regulated by state requirements.

Magnet schools are tuition-free and have a focused theme or aligned curriculum, such as science, math or the arts. There are 4,000 magnet schools across the nation and programs in all 50 states.

Private school choice operates in 23 states and allows parents to use state-funded scholarships to send their children to private schools. In 29 states, students can receive K-12 public school education via online learning. Additionally, the group promotes home schooling.

In New York, parents’ choices for their children include charter schools, magnet schools, the public school in the district where they live, or home schooling.

Mr. Campanella said not all options are right for everyone, but the organization’s main goal is to call for more choices for parents to get the best education for their children. The week features thousands of events and activities across the United States.

The north country has no charter schools, but in St. Lawrence County a proposal for one is being organized. Behind the effort are David Lennox, a science consultant with St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services; Ginger S. Thomas, a former Heuvelton Central School District teacher who runs Teacher’s Desk Consultants, an education consulting business in DeKalb Junction; and Elisabeth M. Wultsch, an instructor in Clarkson University’s School of Engineering.

The project has received state approval, but Mr. Lennox said the group pulled its request until it can finalize plans for the school.

“We’re still in the beginning stages, but all three of us value the idea that there are better ways to educate our kids,” Mr. Lennox said.

Mr. Lennox said he worked in public education for 26 years before he retired in 2006 — only to return to work six months later at St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES.

“I’ve always felt it’s very difficult to change how New York state regulates how every child should be taught, even the ones who aren’t doing well in school,” Mr. Lennox said.

The freedom of a charter school at least allows parents a choice in how their children are educated.

A charter school would allow teachers to tailor their lessons based on their individual students and encourage studies in areas where the students excel, not just focus on their failures. Mr. Lennox said when students are graded on the same scale as their classmates, talents can go unrecognized.

“I’ve heard this saying, ‘Where would Mozart be today if he was educated in state school?’ He would have been held back because he couldn’t pass math and maybe never allowed to be in front of a piano,” Mr. Lennox said.

Mr. Lennox said Common Core and other state-regulated learning systems attempt a one-size-fits-all approach to education, which isn’t for everyone, but a charter school would benefit St. Lawrence County.

The weeklong recognition of educational opportunities is planned by a diverse and growing coalition of individuals, schools and organizations. State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman could not say whether the department is in discussions about additional program choices in New York.

National School Choice Week is a nonpartisan public awareness effort. For more information about events in New York state, visit schoolchoiceweek.com.

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