The year before we started our first charter school, we had kids in 5th, 3rd & 2nd grades. Our oldest had tested into a self-contained, gifted classroom. His teacher had told me that in junior high he wouldn't learn anything academically; instead, he would learn how to adjust socially. He had deep pockets of knowledge in subjects his class had studied: the rain forest, China, etc., but not a broad knowledge (e.g. he didn't know what the heart did).
Our 3rd grader hadn't learned how to read until he was in his second semester of first grade when I bought Hooked on Phonics and taught him myself. I can distinctly remember the first Parent/Teacher conference that year when the teacher made me feel like I was a bad parent because my son hadn't learned how to read yet. In fourth grade, I'd told my son one evening to write better on his homework because his teacher wouldn't accept a messy paper. He told me I was wrong; guess he was right because she didn't care.
Our 2nd grade son also didn't learn how to read until late in his first grade year. In fact, the Special Education teacher approached me to talk about his learning difficulties and suggested he be evaluated for Special Ed services. After we started our charter school I learned that when a parent formally requests Special Ed evaluation, staff has 45 days to get it done. I requested this evaluation two consecutive years and it was never done by the District.
That's the academic side of my motivation to start a charter school. There were also several episodes, such as:
- The Principal telling parents who were brainstorming alternatives to bloody, gory Halloween costumes worn by elementary school-aged children, this after a young man in Denver had been shot Halloween night, that she would be making the Halloween party policy. I asked if even though this involved my children and my tax money, I'd still have no say? She said I was correct.
- This same Principal told me that every child "magically" hits a point in life where all of a sudden they learn to read. Until then inventive spelling and "pretending" to read is just fine. She said children learn to read after exposure to words, such as putting the word "clock" near the classroom clock.
- At the last Back to School Night we attended at this neighborhood school, all three of my kids' teachers said there is no longer a reason to teach spelling because now we have spellcheckers on computers. Parents were aghast and asked about the times in life where an individual needs to write something by hand? Same answer.
- During the semester my son wasn't learning how to read in first grade, his entire class had a semester on "pigs." They made a pig cookbook, had a potluck comprised of foods made with pig products, "wrote" in pig journals, and even had a pig in the classroom in a dog kennel.
- At the time, the District's 3rd grade curriculum was entirely about Native Americans. The first few programs or presentations we parents attended, we thought, "this is nice." After winter break, we were sick of the same curriculum! Imagine what our children thought about it day after day?
There were many times during our battle for that first charter school, I felt like I was grasping for a lifeline for my children. I honestly believe one son would have eventually dropped out of school were it not for the change in his life at our charter school. (This son is now a U.S. Marine Corp Corporal!) I do not have a background in education and didn't know what was "normal" or "right" (like many parents). I didn't know it wasn't normal for my son to be adding and subtracting double digit numbers before Kindergarten. It wasn't until a few months into the first year of our charter school that I realized not all teachers yell at their students on a regular basis.
During the first year of our new school I heard numerous comparable stories from other parents. In fact, these experiences bonded us together and assured that our school would be successful! Our children's futures depended on it!