Charter Schools Should Not Have All the Fun

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By David Peterson, Superintendent, Nampa School District

One size does not fit all. Not clothes, not cars, not diets, not housing and, importantly, not schooling. Traditional, or what I will call “legacy” schools and school districts have focused on standardization, uniformity and predictability. Parents and state governments demanded it. It served our nation well for over 100 years. Times have changed, and so must we.

The important characteristic of charter schools is their difference from legacy schools and the real choices that the differences provide families and students. Somewhat like a fast food chain, one legacy school looks pretty much like any other school – anywhere.

Nampa SD Day of Code 2

Nampa School District students work together on Day of Code activities.

This is changing. Individual legacy schools are embracing innovation and choice. Legacy school districts are providing great school leaders with the autonomy necessary to create uniquely responsive and personalized schools. In exchange for this autonomy and freedom is an absolute focus on excellence and high levels of student achievement. Accepting increased accountability in exchange for increased autonomy is universally embraced by innovative school leaders and the families they will serve.

Bluum’s CEO Terry Ryan shared many of the exciting work being done in legacy school districts in our state to inspire and embrace innovation and expand choice in his January 21 post. The energy around innovation in the Treasure Valley and particularly in the Nampa School District, is particularly exciting.

We are empowering school leaders to innovate and expand choice for our Nampa families and students. We have had our New Horizons Dual Language Magnet program for quite some time, and we intend to grow this great school substantially over the next several years. We have a best-in-class professional-technical program for high school students, regardless of where they live in Nampa. This year, we opened a brand new school of choice, Union High School, that provides highly personalized and future-focused learning using the principles of Big Picture Learning.

We have embarked on a district-wide journey to increase personalized learning through the use of technology. This isn’t the staid and ineffective “online learning,” but an engaging and powerful use of digital tools inside every classroom, where every student has their own notebook computer, and human interaction is blended with the global resources available today.

And we are not done! Last year, we initiated our Innovative Schools process, where individual schools are being supported to become “charter-like” schools within our district. It is our plan to have more and more of our neighborhood schools become unique, better able to serve its community. Union High School evolved from such a process.

With the support of Bluum, we are set to open a new school in the 2017-18 school year. Tentatively named Empowerment Leadership Academy, this school will bring the best practices for personalized learning from top charter and private schools across the country into practice right here. We see this school as one that others in the district and beyond can learn from and build on.

Legacy schools have served our communities and our country well. They still serve a great many students and families extremely well. A “great many,” however, will not create the future our country, our communities, our families or our students deserve and need. Every child and every family deserves a school suited to their needs. We are so excited to be fully engaged in creating them.

Peterson webDavid Peterson is Superintendent of the Nampa School District in Nampa, Idaho. He joined the 15,000 student district in July 2014 after 38 years of experience in education in Washington State, starting as preschool teacher and advancing to hold positions including principal, central office administrator, state department supervisor, assistant superintendent and school district superintendent. Peterson is committed to personalized learning, thoughtful innovation, and community-centered schools.

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