Charter schools already impact local education

The Kentucky Legislature approved charter schools in the state. It could be years before we see one open in our area, but they’re already impacting the way schools teach your children.

Charter schools helped inspire one school system to reinvent its curriculum.

On the outside, Calvert City Elementary School looks like any other school. When you go inside, and classrooms don’t look anything like they did a year ago.

Earlier this month we visited the school as third through fifth graders worked together on a project to solve a community-wide trash program.

"Instead of sitting with a teacher standing in front of you lecturing all day, you can get excited about it and say ‘This is going to be a fun day at school, because I can learn at my own pace," said fifth-grader Logan Parker.

They are part of the discovery program Marshall County started last August. The curriculum focuses less on testing and more on project-based instruction.

If you have a student in most Marshall County elementary schools, you can now consider two options for your child:

The first is the Legacy program. It has a more traditional classroom setting with one teacher, and students work on about two hands-on projects a year.

The other option is the Discovery program. Those classes are larger, with students from different grades who work on projects daily.

Discovery classes also have multiple teachers, including Nan Arant.

"They’re free to do whatever they need to do in order to pursue their education, some students working two or three levels above, and then we have some working below," Arant said.

That approach sounds like something you would find in a charter school. Charter schools are public schools that tailor their curriculum to meet specific needs. 

"Somebody else can take the funding we’re typically getting, because there’s an educational model out there for them. There is no reason we can’t offer the same type of training a charter school is offering," said Marshall County Schools Instructional Supervisor Abby Griffy. 

Griffy’s team modeled the discovery program after charter schools they visited while doing research.

"If we as a public school district, if we don’t offer something like this, we now have competition. Especially in Kentucky, we have competition," Griffy said.

The district plans to expand the learning model to high school and middle school in the fall.
"It’s different, because it’s given me a different perspective about school in general," said Parker.

Many local districts say we don’t need charter schools in west Kentucky.

Students at the Murray-Calloway County Technology Center learn the skills they need to become nurses and doctors one day.

Calloway County senior Abby Aeschliman started taking vocational school school classes three years ago. Now, she’s getting ready to graduate and already has her state nursing registration.

"It’s like once you take the bus from high school to vocational school, it’s a whole new world. And you get to do what you want, what you’re interested in," said Aeschliman.

More vocational schools and skill centers open in west Kentucky for students who need specific skills to get the jobs they want. Tawnya Hunter with Calloway County Schools says those programs are an example of the many opportunities available at traditional public schools. 

"In public education you have all the opportunities. You have clubs and sports and extra-curricular activities that would be difficult for a charter school to offer," Hunter said.

Yet, some parents want more.

"I feel if I was to put my son in one, he would have more college prep opportunity. He would have that special one-on-one ability with the teachers," said Deanna Utt, a mom to a Reidland Elementary student.

She said she hopes charter schools come to west Kentucky to give her son more options.

"The most important thing about having a good education is to develop and become a well-rounded, respected adult," Utt said. 

It could be years before charter schools open in Kentucky, but students are already learning in a way that hadn’t years before.

Under the new law allowing charter schools in Kentucky, they won’t open until fall 2018.

These are the key points we showed in the three parts of this series:

– Charter schools are part of the public school district, but governed by a separate school board.
– That board controls their money.
– Charter schools tailor their curriculum to specific needs.
– Local school districts worry they will take away from their funding.
– They haven’t opened in Kentucky, but they already inspired the way some local schools teach.

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