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National School Choice Week Rally highlights student achievement and personalized learning

State Superintendent Johnson joins students, parents, and teachers at rally organized by advocates for public charter schools

State Superintendent Mark Johnson (front row, center) joined students from Bear Grass Charter School Jan. 23 at the N.C. Museum of History for a rally celebrating National School Choice Week. (CJ photo by Lindsay Marchello)
State Superintendent Mark Johnson (front row, center) joined students from Bear Grass Charter School Jan. 23 at the N.C. Museum of History for a rally celebrating National School Choice Week. (CJ photo by Lindsay Marchello)

At the heart of Tuesday’s school choice rally, organized by the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools, was a celebration of student achievement through educational opportunity.

“If you teach kids to find their own voices, they can learn to change their own lives and then they’ll change the world,” Deborah Brown, the 2017 charter school teacher of the year, said. “Give them a voice and choice, and they will become leaders with a vision for change.”

School choice supporters, decked out with yellow scarves and armed with school choice posters, filled the N.C. Museum of History auditorium to celebrate National School Choice Week. Parents, teachers, and education leaders gathered for the rally and gave their support to student performers.

The Bear Grass Charter School band performed the national anthem and a few pop songs, while cheerleaders from BGCS and Research Triangle High School performed the 2018 National School Choice Week dance. The rally even featured a military drill performed by young students from Torchlight Academy.

Moaad Al Wakil, a senior at RTHS, gave a speech about leaving his comfort zone and becoming the captain of his school’s debate team. Leticia Tusset said she once was incredibly timid but because of RTHS she was able to perform a Shakespearean monologue before a crowd.

“School choice is important because every child deserves an effective, challenging education that inspires them to realize their dreams,” Rhonda Dillingham, the executive director of NCPCS, said. “School choice allows parents to identify the best learning environment for their children and I think that’s something worth celebrating.”

While student achievement was a main focus of the rally, personalized education also was addressed.

“We personalize almost everything these days. We use our technology to personalize our news, we personalize our social media, and our entertainment,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said. “You can even personalize your fast food order before you walk into the fast food restaurant.  It’s time we personalized education.”

Brown, an English teacher at Research Triangle High School, said personalized is the “hottest buzzword in education.”

“Giving students and their families a choice in their school is the first step toward that vision of personalization,” Brown said.

Over the past few years, state legislators have made three new school choice programs available to families: the Personal Education Saving Accounts, Opportunity Scholarships, and Special Education Scholarship Grants for Children with Disabilities. They also lifted the statewide cap on public charter schools and allowed more growth in charter school enrollment.

Families are turning to nontraditional schools in growing numbers. Last year, the Department of Public Instruction released data showing increased enrollment in charter, private, and homeschools. Public charter schools saw the greatest gains with 11,437 new students in 2017, making total enrollment 89,228 students.

“I think it is wonderful to see those kids being able to have those choices,” Joni Basley, a parent of a BGCS student, said. “My daughter has been able to become a musician. It is amazing.”

Sharon Scott, a BGCS teacher and also a parent, said she was proud of the students at the rally and the legislators who support the school choice movement.

“School choice means everything to me,” Scott said.