One school district in Texas is giving more power to parents and teachers, emphasizing student needs and classroom education at a time when others are focusing on soccer fields and scoreboards. The Grand Prairie school district is turning itself into a model of public school choice.
Texans like choices. From the largest to the smallest decisions, we enjoy having options. Yet in education there have been precious few choices – and no real competition. This week is School Choice Week across our country so we have to ask: Why is choice so important in every facet of our lives, except when it comes to educating our youth?
Grand Prairie ISD, located in Dallas County (between Dallas and Fort Worth), recently launched “The GPISD Experience” where students and parents were given an overview of the District’s Schools of Choice programs, which will launch with the 2012-2013 school year.
The new GPISD choice program is simple: it allows parents and students to choose what schools to attend. This school choice model will offer students an extension of the traditional curriculum, and afford parents the ability to choose what type of educational experience they feel best suits their child.
For students particularly interested in math and science, GPISD has provided the STEM Academy which emphasizes science, technology and engineering. Other options include the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy which focuses on preparing students for real-world experiences.
And since GPISD is an open-enrollment district, students do not have to live in the city to attend a GPISD school.
Sam Buchmeyer, Director of Communications for Grand Prairie ISD, stressed in an interview with me how important this move was for the district. “We wrestled with the overall budget and saw that many students were leaving GPISD. We decided to leverage our strengths in order to have the biggest impact on the community.”
Mr. Buchmeyer emphasized how competition, both within and outside of the district, drove GPISD to make this decision.
GPISD is a predominantly low income, urban school district. Some claim this creates a challenge for GPISD, but clearly the district isn’t listening to the naysayers. Rather than whine about perceived challenges, the district is putting its resources into empowering parents and providing for the classroom. Even though the district is at the lower-end of the over-all spending scale, their teachers make at the upper-end of the pay scale. That’s an indicator of priorities.
At a time when many districts are claiming a chainsaw was taken to education funding, GPISD is innovating and pressing on.
While other school districts are suing the state, GPISD is giving parents and teachers more choices to benefit the students.
The point is, when parents and students have a say in their education, great things can be accomplished. With more choices comes greater involvement and higher levels of accountability. GPISD has made the choice to evolve and change in order to have the greatest positive impact on students and the surrounding community.
This is a choice that many other school districts across our state would be wise to take a look at.