Juneau charter school is not elitist

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, July 02, 2004

Despite Patrick McGonegal's attempts to portray the charter and Montessori schools as private schools, they are in fact public schools. McGonegal states, "These people claim that the district is somehow obligated to provide them with educational options for their children. This is simply not true." Guess what, Mr. McGonegal: It is true. Go take a look at the law books regarding charter schools. "The public," rants Mr. McGonegal, "who will never see one whit of benefit from these programs for their own children, should not be forced to contribute funds to them at all." Wake up. Those who attend the schools are the public.

The Juneau Community Charter School is open to anyone who applies, limited only by its small size. Our enrollment runs the gamut of lower-income to upper-income parents, including single mothers and people receiving various forms of public assistance. While Mr. McGonegal feels that a curriculum including arts, music and language should be limited to parents such as he who can afford private school tuition, the state of Alaska says different, and that's why it mandates funding for the charter school.

The district spends some 40 percent less per charter school student than at the larger elementary schools. "Still," complain many opponents, "you're taking away the most involved parents." This is a half-truth. Parents are involved in the charter school because they have to be and because there is a structure for them to be. They play a critical role in planning curriculum and running the school. It is a mistake to assume they would or could be equally involved if their students were attending Harborview or Auke Bay.

The charter school is one of the highest performing schools in the state on the benchmark tests, and unfortunately, this seems to come as an affront to many in the district. This is the saddest part of all, because instead of analyzing alternative programs such as the charter and Montessori schools for valuable insights that they may provide into successful education, these programs are relentlessly attacked as "elitist" and stifled at every turn. Could it be that "alternative" programs such as these could help meet the needs of our most neglected students early on? Could elements of the charter school model be successfully adopted throughout the district? If people like Mr. McGonegal have their way, we'll never know.

Stuart Cohen


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