Local charter school provides primary school alternative

Rebecca Fiedler
Staff writer

Early registration for the Waco Charter School, located on N 25th Street will come to a close today. The school provides a limited number of students in the area with the option to leave the school district they’d otherwise attend.

The Waco Charter School takes only 20 students per class, and provides only two sets of classes per grade level from kindergarten to the fifth grade, including one pre-kindergarten class. Students are enrolled on a first-come, first-serve basis, and must meet certain criteria to enter. Early enrollment began on April 1, and a second round of enrollment will take place in July.

The school’s principal, Sabrina Gray, said the requirements to enter the Waco Charter School are the same as most public schools, including proof of residence and vaccination records. Income level is not taken into account. Gray said, however, that some parents will lie on their child’s application.

“It doesn’t fare well if the parent lies on the application,” she said. “I have had some parents lie on their application about discipline. One child was on medicine and they said he wasn’t. One child had been to alternative school and they said he hadn’t. We do want parents to be honest in the application process.”

The Waco Charter School receives many children who would have attended Waco, La Vega, Lorena and Midway Independent School Districts, Gray said. The National Center for Education Statistics stated that the school is a Title I school, and in the 2011-2012 school year, 230 of the 235 students attending were free-lunch eligible. The same year’s data showed the school had an almost even ratio of boys to girls, and a majority of Hispanic students, preceded by African American and Anglo.

“Charter schools are public schools just like an independent school district,” Gray said. “Sometimes you have charter schools that are very specific to an academic area such as science or math or liberal arts. They can be very specified in their curriculum. They try to offer something very unique that most campuses don’t offer.”

Publications like the famous documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’ sometimes show charter schools to be a form of escape from bad school districts, said Dr. John Wilson, clinical professor of education administration at Baylor. Wilson said the idea of charter schools being an escape is not necessarily true.

“There are people out there that seem to want to find the silver bullet –- the thing that’s going to solve all of these issues, and that suddenly we’ll have 100 percent of our students who graduate from high school and are college ready,” Wilson said. “But the difference is not made in school structure. Structure can help. But, the difference is made by the teacher and the group of students in there.”

Wilson said though charter schools can be good, he feels the media has become enamored by the idea of charter schools, and said research shows only a minority of charter schools out-perform regular public schools.

Gray said parents who apply for their children to attend Waco Charter School are looking for a small, structured setting for their children to be educated in.

“One of the great things we like to focus on is small classrooms,” she said. “We keep our kids’ classes at 20 students or fewer. We have an instructional aid for each grade level. We do provide art and daily physical education as part of our curriculum. We have in-school tutorials and Saturday school offered.”

The parents who send their children to Waco Charter School feel the students are getting a better experience, Gray said.

“Some parents have been very displeased with the overcrowding in independent school districts,” Gray said. “They like the level of attentiveness that their kids get here at the Waco Charter School.”

Gray said some parents worry about what will happen for their children after they leave Waco Charter School, as the school only offers classes up through the fifth grade. She feels children are being taught skills at the charter school that they can carry on in another school district.

“Some parents are a little petrified about putting their kids back in the independent school district after the fifth grade because of some of the things they may be exposed to,” she said. “But we do have an emphasis on character education – rules and routine respect, and responsibility.”

Wilson said parents like having different options in how their children are educated, and that some people believe different types of schooling are better for their children than others.

“I support us having education for children, no matter where it is or how it’s delivered,” Wilson said.

“Whether it’s homeschooling or charter schools or some other kind of setting like that, the real key is that we want our children educated to the highest level we can get them.”

Gray said the Waco Charter School will attempt to add a sixth grade in the 2015-2016 year.