Andrew Campanella: What makes Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School unique?
Oguz Yildiz, principal of Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School: We work to not only build up our students academically, but also to build a strong bond between families and our school staff. We work with our teachers to go the extra mile to get to know the families of students and really understand where their students are coming from. That is why our faculty participates in regular home visits after hours. We believe the student is not just what he or she shows us at school but what he or she brings with them to school. What is their home life like? What is their cultural background? What is important to them personally? This provides us with a full picture of the individual and a deeper understanding of each student. In addition, we focus on sustainability and green renewable energy. We are in the final stages of a Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification. Through this program, along with our SmartTech classes, we are working as a team to make our world and our school a healthier environment.
Andrew: What are some of the ways Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School is involved in the community?
Oguz: The school especially seeks relationships with organizations related to the school’s focus on renewable energy and the environment. Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) and New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) are two of our most recent community members that have invested their time and committed to the well-being of our students. We have both colleges offering various courses to our high school students. RVCC offers our students a dual enrollment program that will allow our participating students to graduate high school with an associate degree. Some classes are offered on [the college] campus and some classes are taught at our school by RVCC professors. NJIT professors will also be coming to our school to teach classes.
Andrew: What is your school’s approach to helping individual students succeed?
Oguz: Our instruction is driven by data and we differentiate lessons to meet various learning styles. Aside from the various online programs available to our students, each teacher offers one day of tutoring and the school offers Saturday school for any students that need additional help or may be struggling. The online programs we use and adaptive testing models help meet the needs of every student. Also, our special education teachers work very closely with the general education teachers in planning lessons and activities to help students succeed.
Andrew: Why do you think it is important for parents to have choices in where they send their kids to school?
Oguz: From my perspective, it doesn’t matter if the choice school is a private school or a public school. The opportunity must be there. The parents must be able to pick their choice. I see some schools in different cities, different towns that don’t have choice. They feel like, “We are the only ones, either pick us or leave.” That mentality hurts education. If there is competition, the goods and the products improve. If there is no competition, if there is no push, I don’t think we can improve. Every school has a theme, every school has its own philosophy, and every parent should be given the chance to pick how they want to raise their child and what school they want the child to go to. School choice is one important way parents can play an active role in receiving the best education possible for their children. Now that families can choose what works for them, their students no longer need to struggle in an education system that doesn’t quite fit what their child might need.
There are many great schools in New Jersey. There is no reason why all children should not have an equal opportunity to attend those schools.
Andrew: How do you celebrate School Choice Week each year?
Oguz: We all love to participate in National School Choice Week. Every teacher gets involved with teaching his or her class the dance. Our staff uses classroom SmartBoards to follow along and then on the actual day of the event the whole school participates in the dance in the gym. We hand out the yellow scarves and students really enjoy the day.
Andrew Campanella is President of National School Choice Week.
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