Shelby Doyle: What do you think is special about the way that your school approaches education?
Shalisa Arnold: I’ve been around [Benjamin Franklin Charter School] for a long time. It’s my 21st year. I think what makes us special and appealing to people who come in to check us out is that we’re not just focused on high academic standards within our buildings, we’re really looking for students to leave us with a very well-rounded perspective and well-rounded education. At our K-6 location, we believe in the philosophy of “we’re going to work hard but we’re going to play hard [too].” We are not one of the schools that have chosen to move away from the idea of recess. We believe recess adds a different element to a child’s educational experience and we want to maintain that. We want the kids to be able to play and develop that social aspect just as much as we’re developing them in the classroom. We’re not scrimping on general music minutes and PE minutes. The kids attend two music classes and two PE classes a week. In addition to the high academic standards that we hold within our buildings, maintaining that well-rounded idea is important for us.
Shelby: What are some things you think people misunderstand about charter schools?
Shalisa: That is some hefty confusion that we fight on a daily basis, and it’s really unfortunate. I think if we can get them in the doors, they see that our mission and our goal is that we want to educate kids and provide an opportunity for parents to find the right fit for their child. That’s really what it’s about. We operate under the same laws and regulations that a regular district school does. A lot of parents feel like they get a private education, but for free, when they walk around our campuses. That’s a pretty steady comment that we get. What I would help them understand is that it doesn’t cost money. I think there’s a big misconception that charter schools accept tuition. We don’t, we operate on the same funding as district schools do. In fact, in our case, it’s a little less, because we don’t accept federal funding either.
Shelby: How would you say things have evolved in education since BFCS was founded?
Shalisa: Societal pressures are different on students. Social media has really changed the way we think and approach education. It’s really about accepting the new normal and moving forward with what that looks like in the classroom… to maintain student engagement, to give teachers resources that they need, and to professionally develop everyone involved in the cause so that the purpose of educating children is still achieved. The route that we take to get there has drastically changed. We have to move faster, we have to be more creative, all to achieve that same end result. But again, it’s worth it. Also, not only have children changed, but parenting styles have changed. The new generation of parents— what they know is different, what’s important to them is different. I also think legalities have changed quite a bit, so we have to be more cautious than ever before and make well-thought-out decisions every step of the way.
Shelby: Why do you think it is important for parents to have choices in where they send their kids to school?
Shalisa: If we’re truly in education for the right reasons, we want every child to receive the kind of education that’s going to be best for them. I’m grateful that we have so many options in the area, because parents truly can take an active role in finding what they feel is the best fit for their kid. It’s not for me to dictate where your child has to go to school, but for you to choose what’s going to be the best fit for your child, whether that’s our school or the school right down the street. Again, it’s our job to “sell our product,” and tell you what our school is about. But in the end, my opinion and one that I know our school believes in wholeheartedly is that it’s a parental right and we’re here to support you in that ultimate decision. Anything we can do to help guard that, we are willing and ready to do. Because it’s important.
If everyone were to remember the goal of education in general, it’s to make sure that our kids are leaving educational institutions being the kind of people that they need to be. We have a lot more similarities than we do differences amongst all of the schools, and we should celebrate those instead of holding people down.
Even though it’s a charter school that’s one of our biggest competitors, I’m grateful, because without school choice we wouldn’t even be in existence, and we wouldn’t have been able to service the tens of thousands of students that we’ve been able to over the last 25 years. School choice is a good thing and we need to start working together. It’s not about us, it’s about the kids.
Shelby: How do you celebrate School Choice Week each year?
Shalisa: It really turns into a week of celebrating our school and what we love about our school. We turn that loose to the students and they each write a little snippet about things they appreciate about the school. We hang those around the building, where they’re visible to the outside, so people can read them. What better way is there than to read the writings of children? They don’t mince words, they’re going to tell it like it is. If we’re meeting their approval, then chances are we’re doing alright. We also do family spotlights. We have families come in, we videotape them, we post them on our social media sites. It’s people expressing what they appreciate about the school, what they like about the school, and why school choice is important to them. Then we do staff spotlights and we highlight our students as well. Some campuses participate in the dance. Each campus kind of has its own flavor, but we do make sure that we have something happening at each of the campuses, so we’re getting that message out to parents. We also have taken a people [to the state capitol] to participate in those festivities as well.
Shelby Doyle is director of communications and external relations at National School Choice Week and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Shining a spotlight on effective educational options for every child"