It’s time to trust the parents

Using a laptop as a virtual school tool. (Photo: fizkes, via Shutterstock)

A young child struggles in school, is diagnosed with dyslexia, attends a variety of different schools to find the right fit and goes on to a successful career in business and politics.  This is the true life portrayal of Gov. Gavin Newsom – a model example of how different school options can have such a profound impact on the lives of our children.

My own children experienced a slice of this new American dream. Both boys were smart and inquisitive, but began to disconnect, bored in the traditional public school environment. I tried everything for each of them but recognized that my boys should and could be achieving at a different level.

So I took a huge leap and enrolled them both in a virtual public charter school. With the hindsight of time, my only regret is I didn’t do it earlier.  Both are happy, healthy and on their way to fantastic careers in their desired fields of study. I’m a proud momma and so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have had a public school option to choose from.

For my sons, traditional public school just didn’t work. They needed an educational system more tailored to their learning styles.

Gov. Newsom’s story isn’t exactly the same because no two children are the same. According to SFGATE, he started school at the French-American bilingual school but transferred due to severe dyslexia. He then attended Notre Dame de Victoire from third to fifth grade where he was given remedial reading instruction. Finally, his family moved to Larkspur Corte School District – a top public school district in California – where, by most accounts, he excelled in academics and athletics.

He went on to found Plumpjack Winery, served on the Board of Supervisors, became Mayor of San Francisco, before being elected lieutenant governor and Governor of California. I have no crystal ball and can’t see in the mind or heart of Governor Newsom, but I do suspect he’s thankful for the educational options his parents chose for him.

Now that the debate of charter school reform is over, it’s vital that regulatory efforts do not curtail school choice, limit family options, and condemn a segment of students to fly well below their potential in life. Virtual public charter schools are not the right option for many families. Neither are brick-and-mortar charter schools. Likewise, neither are the traditional public schools that serve so many millions of students in California.

For my sons, traditional public school just didn’t work. They needed an educational system more tailored to their learning styles.The traditional public school couldn’t provide an education curriculum to my sons’ particular needs. Rather than try and force these round pegs into square holes, I had the opportunity to use a virtual program that allowed us to explore their interests and develop them into the fantastic students they still are today.

And that’s the beauty of school choice: It expands options for all families and it helps ensure that each student is getting an education as personalized to their particular needs as feasible.

For the success of California students, we need a strong traditional public school system. It needs to be well-funded, and well managed. But we also need a charter school system that increases parent choice and helps those students that don’t fit the traditional mold.

Gov. Newsom’s story is an inspiration to students throughout California who have opted into the charter school system for one reason or another. Many too suffer dyslexia and struggle to keep up as their peers rush ahead. Others have serious social or physical disabilities and need a school system that can cater to their very particular needs.

So it’s my great hope that Gov. Newsom will embrace the benefits of school choice and the positive contributions they make to our children’s education.  Giving parents more choices simply ensures that all students, regardless of where they attend school, have the opportunity to succeed. It’s time to start trusting parents again.

Editor’s Note: Janell Smily, who lives in Santa Rosa, is a board member of California Parents for Public Virtual Education, and author of “…As Long As You Don’t Turn Them Into Weirdos.”

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