Guest column: Wayman Academy proves the value of charter schools
This letter is a response to the article published in Times-Union regarding charter schools.
The mission of each school is simple: Prepare students for success in the classroom and in life.
But for some adults in Tallahassee, education is just another arena for special interests to sling mud with little or no thought given to students.
For example, the Times-Union recently featured the release of a “report” criticizing charter public schools in Florida. The report was authored by a self-proclaimed watchdog group that failed to mention in its executive summary or key findings that Florida charter school students perform better than their peers in district schools.
A comprehensive report from the Florida Department of Education found this to be true – charters produce better outcomes for students and are more successful at narrowing achievement gaps for minority students.
The watchdog group’s report dismissed the state department’s comparative analysis saying charters are doing a better job serving students as an outlier. As a charter school principal serving 100 percent low-income students in north Jacksonville — it is my reality.
I am proud to be the principal of Wayman Academy of the Arts — a public charter school in Jacksonville. I can tell you first-hand that our families and students are focused on lifelong success and they do not accept poverty as a barrier for their children to receive a quality education.
Nearly all of our students are zoned for struggling “D” and “F” schools that unfortunately can’t meet their needs. That’s why their parents chose Wayman — which has earned an A or B the last three years. Like many of my students, I have spent time in traditional Duval public schools both as an assistant principal and then a principal.
After turning around a failing district-run elementary school, I moved to Wayman Academy. At a public charter school, I have more power to improve outcomes for families and engage teachers.
I am proud of our teachers, students and families for helping Wayman earn a very high “B” this year, only 2 percentage points short of an “A.” For far too many of our students, attending Wayman is the only way they are able to escape a feeder pattern of failing schools.
Education is not “one size fits all” model. All of Florida’s families, regardless of income and ZIP Code, deserve the power of finding the right educational fit. Yet, I hear attacks on public charter schools and the 295,000 students who attend these schools echoed every day in the media.
They say that too many charter schools have closed in Florida. I am proud that we have a strict system that holds charter schools accountable for their performance and finances. And while charter schools may close when they fail, there is no similar fate for zoned public schools that have shown little or no improvement for years.
The most perplexing part of these attacks is that charter schools have rapidly grown in popularity with nearly 1 in 10 students attending a charter school. If you added up the wait lists of the state’s more than 650 charters, you would have more than 100,000 student names. That shows me that Florida needs more good quality options.
The increase in the number of charter schools has coincided with learning gains over the past 20 years that have made Florida a national model. Florida’s results on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments show we are the only state that significantly increased scores in grade 4 mathematics, grade 8 reading and grade 8 mathematics between 2015 and 2017.
Still, political opponents ignore these gains and portray the high demand for charter schools as a negative. That is insulting to each family that has invested their time and energy toward finding a better educational fit for their child.
Thankfully, parents and students now have more educational options. They are the real experts and they know that everyone is better served when we have more options to fit unique learning styles. No amount of political spin or misguided reports can change that.
Simaran Bakshi is principal of Wayman Academy of the Arts.