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Walking the Talk: An Ed Reformer Reflects on Choosing a Public Charter School

In 2011, my husband, an Episcopal priest, was called to a church in Atlanta, GA.  The two biggest decisions facing us were – where should we live and where will we send our son, Charles to school?  My husband and I had lived in Atlanta from 2001-2006 before coming to D.C., so we knew a good deal about the different neighborhoods in Atlanta, but so much had changed while we were gone. And while I knew a little about the charter sector in Atlanta through my work at NAPCS, we didn’t have a strong grasp on all of the educational options in Atlanta.  We had a lot of research to do, and had to do it quickly as we needed to move in the next couple of months. Of course, there were lots of options before us.  Charles was turning 4 on September 7, 2011, missing the cut-off for Georgia Pre-K by 6 days, so we needed to find a preschool for him for the coming year, while at the same time thinking through a longer term strategy for elementary school.  Some friends encouraged us to go the private school route, while others suggested moving to neighborhoods known for high-quality traditional public schools.  However, we talked to one close friend (whose son is a month younger than Charles), and she was planning to send her son to the new East Lake Early Learning Academy (ELEA) for Pre-K through 3, and then to Drew for elementary school.  We thought this might be a good option for Charles and gave it a closer look. Because of its academic success and role as the cornerstone in a major neighborhood revitalization, Drew was well-known in the national charter sector.  I had a chance to visit Drew during the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta, was able to see first-hand what great work they were doing, and was immediately impressed.   Ultimately, we decided to move to the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta so that we could send Charles to ELEA, which would allow him to matriculate to Drew beginning in Pre-K.  We were drawn to Kirkwood because of its in-town location, incredible diversity, and convenience to both ELEA and Drew – only 5 minutes away!  But more than that, Drew met some very important criteria for my husband and me – diverse student body (racial and socio-economic status), high academic performance, and strong parental commitment. Our experience with the East Lake Early Academy was great, and Drew has been an excellent choice for Charles so far.  His team of three teachers is phenomenal, and the emphasis on language and literacy development in the early years is impressive.  But I expected as much coming to a school so widely acclaimed and with such a strong reputation for academic performance.  What I have been most impressed by, however, is the level of parental involvement and commitment.  Parents assume tremendous responsibility for the school’s success and partner with the teachers and administration to make things happen.  School started on July 30th, and shortly before then, I joined a Drew Charter Schools Parent group on Facebook.  Today, it has 183 members, is growing, and is THE source for information and dialogue about issues related to the school. Is Drew perfect?  Of course not…but what school is?  I’m excited to be part of a community of parents for whom failure is not an option.  Though I left NAPCS earlier this year to go to graduate school, I feel blessed to still be connected to the movement and impact change, now in an even more personal way. Charles and Mommy at Drew (2)                   Photo: Author Rhonda Fischer and her son Charles, ready for his first day of school at Drew