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Conference Seeks To Reduce Tension Between Charter Schools And Districts

Monday, September 27, 2010 at 4:08 PM

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A conference being held in Columbus is aimed at finding common ground between charter schools and traditional public schools. Ideastream®’s Michelle Kanu reports the gathering is an attempt to ease the tensions between both sides and will give them a chance to work together.

For years, charter schools – which are publicly funded but privately run - and traditional schools have been at odds – over state tax dollars, and over whether charters really do a better job of educating kids.  This week’s conference is the first that brings the two sides together to set aside their differences… says Bill Sims, President of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  His organization is hosting the event. 

Sims: “We’re trying to move the conversation away from the tension related ‘we-they’ conversations to how can we all work together collaboratively to realize the kind of reforms that we’re looking for.”

Two hundred educators from traditional public and charter schools are expected to attend, and ten states will be represented.

Sims says his organization reached out to school districts around Ohio and the country to co-host.  Some refused the invitation, but others were excited to get involved.

Sims: “the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the Denver Public Schools, and in addition to the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the New Mexico, Arizona, and Massachusetts charter school associations are also co-hosting.”

The conference will highlight examples of districts that are embracing and even partnering with charter schools.  For instance, Denver Public Schools have specific zones where kids can enroll at either charter or district schools.  Indianapolis has some charters that share staff with the traditional schools, and in San Antonio, charter schools lease empty district-owned buildings and share their art programs with district students.

School administrators in Cleveland, which for a long time complained that charter schools siphon off critical state money and, in some cases, better performing students, now include charter schools as a part of the district’s transformation plan.  Roseann Canfora is a spokesperson for Cleveland Schools.

Canfora: “We’re coming to the charter school conference with a very open mind, recognizing that there are opportunities and challenges ahead for both charter and traditional public schools.”

Canfora is optimistic that the tension between charters and districts will decrease as both realize they can learn from the practices that are working well in their schools.

The conference continues through Tuesday.

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