February 18, 2013

Can A School Transform A Community? (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote about KIPP Inspire Academy (KIA) and asked, can a school transform a community? This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch released a great story about City Garden, essentially exploring the same question. Their answer, like mine, is yes.

Like KIA, City Garden is a charter school, but that is about all the two schools have in common. The instructional practices at KIA are markedly different than they are at City Garden, which uses a Montessori approach. Another notable difference is that KIA is an open enrollment charter school without an attendance zone. That means students from anywhere in Saint Louis can enroll at KIA. City Garden, on the other hand, does have an attendance zone. Like a traditional public school, this means only students who live in that zone are allowed to enroll.

There are interesting implications with having an attendance zone, which the Post-Dispatch piece discusses, but I will discuss at another time.

What strikes me about KIA and City Garden is that they are both able to have a tremendous positive impact on their surrounding community.

For cities with low-performing school districts, the infusion of a great school seems to make a tremendous impact. But what can suburban or rural areas learn from this? Most of those communities do not need to “transform.” Indeed, many of them are doing quite well.

If we continue to have a limited view of charter schools as “schools for failing districts” then we make a mistake. What I see from KIA and City Garden is the opportunity for choice that they bring. These two schools offer something very different to families.

As I have written before, school districts often cannot meet the needs of all families, especially when they implement the same policies and instructional strategies district-wide. The lessons we should take from KIA and City Garden is that there is no one recipe for success and that families throughout the state would benefit from having more educational options.

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