CONWAY — Parents and teachers of students in charter schools have reasons they believe that alternatives to public schools fit them and the students better.
At the Academy of Hope, which began its fall term classes Wednesday, the reasons ran the gamut from a broader curriculum for the students to the benefit of uniforms to freedom from too may state strictures on how students must be taught.
The Academy is the newest of Horry County’s charter schools, the first of which debuted 11 years ago, said Teal Britton, spokeswoman for Horry County Schools. The public school district has an advisory and limited oversight role with the county’s charter schools.
Britton said she couldn’t argue with certain things parents said they like about charter schools, such as better behavior, because that observation is subjective to each person and there are no numbers to quantify whether one system has better behavior than another.
“It’s a trade-off,” Britton said. “You gain independence in terms of being able to chart the direction of your course, but at the same time, you’re forfeiting some of the resources that are available to you in a larger system.”
But it’s some of those resources that new Academy of Hope teacher Kenny Davis says he’s glad to leave behind.
Davis, who taught in S.C. public schools for seven years before moving to the charter system this year, said he felt public schools are too full of programs designed to be “the solution” to give teachers time to do their work.
“You can’t really focus on what you need to do,” Davis said as he sat in his classroom waiting for his third grade math and science students. “The more they put on you, the less efficient you are.”
Additionally, he said that in a lot of public schools, teachers are told to do a certain thing a specific way, “and that’s it.”
He acknowledged that he will be required to teach at the Academy of Hope according to a textbook called “Everyday Mathematics.” It pretty well sets a day-to-day course, he suggested, but it’s not the same thing as the pacing guide that public school teachers have to tell them what they should be doing.
Britton said Horry County schools aren’t trying to take away the creativity from teachers that Davis said is so important to him, but the district wants teachers to understand and follow what the district believes are successful ways to teach.
Just as charter schools tout their innovations, Britton said there are all kinds of innovations in traditional school systems as well.
The arguments on both sides, though, are most likely moot because just as some people like Republicans and others like Democrats, some will be sold on public schools while others feel that charter schools are the way to go. Both have the same standards they must meet and both get the same amount of state funding to do it.
Dawn Jarrett of Conway, whose 7-year-old daughter Sajadah is a second grader at Academy of Hope, said she believes there is better behavior in charter schools because the parents want their children there and have bought into the school’s rules as being the best way for students to learn. When a charter school teacher tells a parent their child misbehaved in school, Jarrett said, the parent is likely to reinforce that message at home.
But there are other things she likes about the Academy that are different from what she observed in her daughter’s public school kindergarten class.
One thing is the burgundy and khaki uniforms the students wear.
“It keeps them from trying to chase the Joneses,” Jarrett said. “It keeps them from picking with each other” because one student’s clothes might not be as trendy or cool as another’s.
Jarrett also likes that the Academy has Spanish and Mandarin Chinese classes for its elementary students. Her child is an inquisitive learner, she said, and finds things such as foreign languages and yoga classes to be stimulating.
Marion Shaw, the new principal at the Academy, said he’s too new to the charter school movement to be able to know for sure the differences between it and the public system in which he worked for decades at Aynor High School and the central office of the Horry School District. After all, he spent his first week –that before classes started – making sure the Academy’s new space would be ready for its students.
“I’m still learning,” he said sitting in his makeshift office just hours after classes began.
The Academy had enrolled 160 students as of Wednesday morning, he said, and there’s room for more students in the second through fifth grades. This year’s enrollment already tops last year’s, the school’s first, by 40 students and the addition of a fifth grade this year marks the Academy’s progression toward an eventual eight grades plus kindergarten.
He said the school’s time from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. is called the extended day and is used, among other things, for giving extra help to students who need it. He said it may also become a time for club meetings, and faculty and the board are talking about chapters of Junior Achievement, 4-H and Good News clubs at the Academy.
He said he’s perceived that the school is a close-knit, supportive family with kids from Conway, Carolina Forest, Bucksport and even the Little River area.
Shaw said he told teachers at a meeting Tuesday, “We don’t want to just teach standards. We want to master standards.”
He compared founding and opening a charter school to raising a newborn.
“We’re a work in progress,” he said. “Because we’re a second year school, we’re like a 2-year-old child.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.