Since Betsy DeVos’ nomination, the debate over school choice has commanded the country’s attention.
Her cringe-worthy confirmation hearing left sound bites echoing throughout grade school hallways, college dorms, barbershops, corporate conference rooms, and morning commutes, leaving the public leaning forward on the edge of their seats (still) awaiting a conclusion to the spectacle.
I can’t lie.
Seeing Betsy DeVos being grilled like a turkey sausage filled me with an unhealthy and unproductive feeling of exhilaration. Senators were asking all the right questions, with a smugness that me and a thousand other educators could empathize with.
It felt like a win.
Days later, I brought myself back to the reality that it’s much more complicated than that, and drastically more urgent than postponed confirmations.
Mothers and fathers and grandparents and guardians are conducting research, talking to friends, driving through neighborhoods, and doing school visits—families are choosing schools now.
Or have chosen; or been waitlisted; or already don’t have any other options.
This isn’t as theoretical or vague as the confirmation hearing would lead you to believe.
I needed to hear less from politicians and more from families.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down Olivia and Ronald, grandparents of a student at the KIPP school where I work. Their grandson, Jaylynn, came to KIPP WAYS Primary as a founding Kindergartener, a small, bright-eyed, Black boy, with tons of energy and enthusiasm. I wanted to know more about their choice to come to KIPP.
What ensued was a half-hour of me learning and understanding and being reminded of key things I often neglect. There are families that choose to send their students to charter schools, but have a deep respect and history with the traditional public schools in their communities. Olivia and Ronald’s decision to have Jaylynn attend KIPP wasn’t due to a resentment of their neighborhood school; it came from hearing various positive things about the KIPP network, and learning about the attention that would be dedicated to Jaylynn. Whether traditional or charter, Olivia and Ronald wanted Jaylynn to attend a school that they could trust to educate their child and keep him safe.
Check out some of the interview below:
Shamar: Why did you choose to send Jaylynn to a charter school?
Ronald: He was coming out of preschool and we wanted to start him off real well. We thought about Fulton schools but wanted to see what else was out there and I heard an advertisement on the radio about KIPP. We ended up putting in an application, and went into the lottery. We kept our fingers crossed, and the next thing you know they called us.
Olivia: And I wanted to him to have a quality education, first of all. We didn’t want to feel limited as to what we could choose from in Fulton County Schools. It feels like it’s always about the district you live in and your residential address, and I tried to get him into West Manor on Lindhurst but they were booked. They weren’t accepting anymore applications. I did my research and at the time West Manor was the top ranking school for Fulton County and I tried to get him in but we weren’t able to do that.
Ronald: And I grew up in this community. I went to this school. It was Herndon Elementary school back then. Ms. Davey was our principal and I walked. I used to walk from home all the way to the school…about 2 to 3 miles. They didn’t have all these buses.
Shamar: What! Do people know this?
Ronald: I told my grandson, but he was like, “ahhh Papa, no you didn’t.”
Olivia: He didn’t believe him. It was a coincidence really. We got to the school and he was like, “that’s the elementary school I went to!” It was Herdon then, and then they made it into a middle school. And he said that “it’s going to be so ironic. Jaylynn is going to elementary school where I went to elementary school.”
Ronald: My whole family went to this elementary school. It was a nice, one level brick building…they had to add extra classes because it was growing. I graduated from elementary school in June of ’61. It went from first grade to seventh grade, no middle school then, and high school was eight grade to twelfth. I still believe in public schools, I feel like KIPP is still a part of public schools like an arm. An arm of the system.
Shamar: What are your thoughts on School Choice? What do you think of Trump’s nominee?
Ronald: Yea that’s what I’m afraid of. That’s all I’ve been thinking about since they’ve been talking about it. They say she favors charters schools but I figure you should be able to have both. I don’t want to see public schools disrupted. A lot of people really depend on public schools. Everybody can’t get into charter schools. I want to see how much money she is going to put into it. How much effort is she going to put in it. If she doesn’t favor it, I doubt she’s going to put that much. That’s what I’m fearful of.
Olivia: And I think it should still be people’s choice where they want to go, I don’t think they should be limited to just their zones, I think you should be able to whichever school you want your child to go to, I think there needs to be a lot of improvement to it, and I know funding is a big part of it. I’m for people’s choice.