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#AskExcelinEd – Why do people start public charter schools?

• Sam Duell

As we continue to celebrate National Charter Schools Week, ExcelinEd Associate Director of Policy Sam Duell highlights seven stories from seven states of people who have founded charter schools to improve their communities. 

Why do people start public charter schools? It’s a question you may hear this week as advocates and adversaries debate the charter school movement. But if you talk to many parents of charter school students, you’ll likely discover the “charter” part doesn’t matter as much finding “the best possible fit,” as Miami parent Christopher Collot recently stated.

As you may have suspected, there is more than one answer to this question. I’ll prove it. Here are seven different stories of people who started charter schools in seven different states.

  1. New York – Two moms in New York City knew the challenge of educating students with autism because of their personal experiences with their own children. High-quality education can be expensive for any student, and especially expensive for students with autism. These parents founded the NYC Autism Charter School to provide high-quality education to students with autism at no cost.
  2. Florida – Two moms in Tallahassee wanted their children to have a classical education, but there were no public options available. So, they organized their community and applied to start a charter school. Though initially denied by the Leon County School Board, the hopeful school will likely appeal to the state board of education.
  3. Idaho – After losing their community school to consolidation in the 1950s, Sue and Jim Smith founded the Upper Carmen Charter School in 1997. The school has been operating for two decades in the rural community of Carmen, Idaho.
  4. Oklahoma – Education Post interviewed Paul Campbell in January asking, “Why the CEO of an Aerospace Company Opened a Charter School for Rural Kids?” Set in rural Seminole, Oklahoma, Paul was faced with a tough business decision. He simply couldn’t recruit personnel to the company without an excellent school nearby. “It was either move the company or start a school,” he said. The Academy of Seminole will open this fall.
  5. California – This year Legacy Academy will open its doors in San Jose, California. Founded by a retired District Attorney, this charter school is reported to be the first in California to primarily serve students on probation or in foster care.
  6. Colorado – A rural charter school in Colorado was founded by parents who didn’t want to see their children bussed 12 miles a day. Crestone Charter School, a small school of less than 100 students, uniquely serves Saguache County, Colorado.
  7. Hawaii – Ke Kula ‘o Samuel M. Kamakau, Laboratory Public Charter School was founded in 2000, “in response to the expressed needs of Native Hawaiian families to increase student achievement through cultural-based education.” This school along with 20 other cultural immersion schools in Hawaii were credited with bringing the Hawaiian language back to life.

As we can see from this short list, public charter schools are founded by real people to address real problems. Remember that.


About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.