The senior administration and board of Fort Wayne Community Schools acknowledges, somewhat grudgingly, that the advent of competition in the form of charter schools, or mechanisms that promote choice like vouchers, has forced the district to sharpen its focus.
That being said, during a Thursday evening work session board and administration were united in their determination to show the community that the district is the best option to educate students and will be nimble in its pursuit of that goal.
The purpose of the work session was to examine the status of school choice and its effects on the district, as well as promote the continued and open communication between the board and FWCS senior officials like Superintendent Wendy Robinson. It also served to begin the process of strategizing what the district termed as internal and external responses, which will include the setting of a legislative agenda for state lawmakers to consider, while also fostering an environment that would see the district continue a three-year trend of growth in standardized testing.
The meeting served to allow each of the board members -- President Mark GiaQuinta, John Peirce, Julie Hollingsworth, Steve Corona, Becky Hill, Lisa Olinger and Jordan Lebamoff -- to describe their thoughts on charters, vouchers and school scholarships. During their remarks, it was clear that the board is on the same page with regard to support for the administration, as led by Robinson.
For those not in attendance -- though the meeting was public, and information presented will be made available on the district's website -- this matters because the comfort level displayed between the board and the district could very well play a role in the district's recent successes, as well as its future outcomes.
“We've reacted to the fact that people have choice,” GiaQuinta said.
GiaQuinta noted that FWCS, while the largest district in the state, did not actually outgrow Indianapolis Public Schools; IPS has shed more students to charters and through the use of vouchers that allow students to attend private schools.
However, it also true that FWCS' enrollment has remained relatively stable for years and years at more than 30,000 students, and it can also be argued that the district's consistency and renewed emphasis on quality of teaching has appealed to the vast majority of families and students.
Hill, in fact, said that the board should tout the professional backgrounds of the academic staff, adding, “We need to beat that drum really loudly.”
Robinson explained to the board that five schools in the district, due to nearby competition from charters and parochial schools, need to be prioritized for district programming. Those schools -- Bunche Montessori, Towles Intermediate, and South Side and Wayne high schools, as well as Harrison Hill elementary -- should not be viewed as being in academic distress, Robinson emphasized, but need to continue to be strengthened, with Robinson saying she welcomed new ideas from the board.
Robinson also said that the district is preparing for its choice fair on Nov. 3, where parents can learn about the district's programs and offerings, and that the district continues to pursue a federal grant through program Race to the Top.
No resolutions were made or passed at the work session.