CHARTER SCHOOLS: Supporters, critics turn out

DeWayne Bartels

No new ground about charter schools was covered at a meeting last week, but some new voices were heard.

The meeting, held by the Peoria Charter School Initiative, featured students, parents and teachers from the Chicago Math and Science Academy, a charter school.

A math teacher and chair of the school’s math department said one thing that sets their school apart from other public schools in Chicago is the effort teachers put into building a relationship with each student.

Parent Anna Claudio said that effort pays off. Claudio said she has three boys. One of them, while a bright young man, was not motivated. He was a D student, with his best grade being a C.

“I never heard nothing from the public school he was in,” she said.

Claudio said she enrolled him in the charter school and now he is an A and B student looking at the possibility of attending Bradley University and getting a teaching degree.

Kizzie Rogers, a senior at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, said that attitude has made a difference for her.

“I know our teachers care about us because of their dedication ... What we hear is not ‘What are we going to be doing?’ It’s ‘What are we going to be successful at?’” Rogers said.

“When I started, I had no idea of going to college. As the years have passed, I’m not thinking about college. I’m thinking about Ivy League colleges.”

The students, teacher and parents were interrupted periodically with applause. But, not everyone in attendance was enthused about the idea of a charter school in Peoria, even after the inspirational message delivered.

Jim Stowell, a District 150 school board member, questioned whether a charter school is really necessary. He suggested what would make a charter school unique must be incorporated into every public school.

Another man, a retired teacher, brought up the oft used criticism that a charter school would cherry-pick the students that attend.

Dr. Cindy Fischer, a board member with the Peoria Charter School Initiative, said a lottery would be used to select students who attend, assuring that students from all academic levels and socio-economic backgrounds would be included.

But, Terry Knapp, a retired District 150 teacher and former president of the Peoria Federation of Teachers, following the meeting, said he did not buy into Fischer’s claim.

“Sure, they will start with a wide cross-section of students. But, six months down the road, a lot of parents with kids in the charter school will get a letter,” Knapp said. “It will say that their Johnny is not performing to the standards of the school. He’ll be out and they will get to cherry-pick who comes in his place from the waiting list.”