By Barbara Grimm
My journey through the relatively new world of public charter schools began when my first child was in the fifth grade in 1999 and I began to visit middle schools looking for the best placement for him. Schools and classrooms and their issues were not entirely foreign territory as my husband and I were both educators in the public school system. We had a frame of reference.
The neighborhood school was known for its lack of discipline and low academic expectations, and so, for us, having our son attend that school was out of the question. My husband and I were aware of the lack of opportunities available for middle school students in Savannah.
We were staunch public school supporters. We embraced the diversity that the public schools offered. We thought of private schools as a last resort, but a visit to the advanced learning magnet school that most students from my son’s elementary school attended left me feeling hopeless.
What would I do with this skinny, buck-toothed, naïve, but extremely academically well-prepared young man? Then I heard about a group of parents who wanted to start a middle school in Savannah. The Charter School Act was only a year old and so most of us knew very little about charter schools and the possibilities that they offered.
With lots of enthusiasm, we jumped into this effort with both feet. During the next year we logged over 250 volunteer hours and we worked with a group of the most dedicated individuals to make the Oglethorpe Charter School, the first parent start-up school in the state, a reality. Oglethorpe is now 13 years old and it has moved into a new building in Savannah.
Oglethorpe opened in 1999 and It was there that we allowed our first three children to become the guinea pigs for one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Not only did they receive a foundation that allowed them entrance into the best colleges in Georgia, but they also learned a more important life lesson … Character brings rewards.
Today we are preparing for the launch of another Savannah charter school – the Savannah Classical Academy, scheduled to open next fall, and the Academy’s early story is also unique.
After a two year term as the administrator of a small private school, I began to see the practices that caused a marked difference between public and private schools. I began to question why some public school students, particularly those from low socio-economic families, were not being afforded the same opportunities as students from families with better means.
I watched as curriculum was narrowed for those students in an effort to help them be successful on a test, rather than allowing them to obtain skills that they would need to be successful in life. I was not alone in this observation. Others wanted to engage in these same conversations and it was in those discussions that the idea for the Savannah Classical Academy was born. We found veteran educators, an accountant and community activists, formed a board and began to create a petition.
As we began to discuss what was missing in the educational spectrum of Savannah, we knew that we wanted to offer much more sequential, systematic instruction in which the curriculum is content-rich, following the traditional Classical-Liberal educational model, with provisions to challenge all students to fulfill their individual academic potential.
To that end, we began a partnership with Hillsdale College located in Hillsdale, Michigan. The professors at Hillsdale began to shape the ideas of a Classical Liberal curriculum which has become the foundation for the Savannah Classical Academy.
While we made some progress toward approval, we really didn’t turn the corner until we were blessed with a local attorney who agreed to come on as our board chairman. With her leadership, we were able to submit a petition that would prove successful. Savannah Classical Academy, a K-12 charter school, will open with grades K-6 in August next year.
Currently, my fourth child is a seventh grader at Oglethorpe Charter School and obtaining the same solid foundation that his brothers and sister received almost a decade ago. Even though I was a founding member, I sat with others as we awaited the results of the lottery.
I still see too many students for whom those options do not exist. True educational equity demands that ALL students have the same access to exemplary educational experiences. A charter school, bound by its contract with the state, must offer that to every student who attends.
None of my children will benefit from the educational opportunity that we are creating at Savannah Classical Academy. That’s not what matters. Instead, I am leaving them a legacy that doing the right thing for the right reason is a life well lived.
(This article was republished by the Brighter Georgia Education Coalition.)