Updated: January 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm
"Choice" means something different to students now than in the past, when the selection came down to the neighborhood public school or a few private ones in town.
Today, choice is as big as an all-school assembly, with many options clamoring for attention.
"It's critical that learning opportunities are individualized to meet students' educational goals, so choice plays an important role in allowing students and their families to choose the best path for them," said Falcon School District 49 spokeswoman Stephanie Wurtz.
National School Choice Week, which kicks off Saturday, will highlight differing choice options, with one Colorado Springs school being prominently featured in the festivities.
Parents decide to send their children to schools other than one close by for various reasons. Convenience is a big consideration for parents of elementary school students. They may pick a school across town if it's nearer to the child care center they use or other after-school care, such as grandparents.
Older students often want a specific program or feature that's available at one school but not another, such as International Baccalaureate studies, a technical trades track or advanced technology.
Some kids try to convince their parents to switch schools just because they want to be with their friends.
But the most important factor, says Steve Schuck, a local proponent of school choice and founder of Parents Challenge, a philanthropic school choice organization, is that students from low-income families can be afforded the same opportunities as more affluent pupils.
"Economically advantaged parents already have school choice. They exercise it by selecting a residence in a neighborhood served by a high-performing school, or sending their child to a private school, or purchasing tutoring. Low-income families don't have that choice because of their financial circumstances," he said.
"There can be no better way to empower low-income parents with control over their children's future than to give them the ability to choose whatever education delivery system is best for their child."
School choice enables a couple of things to happen, said Mary Faith Hall, head of The Thomas MacLaren School.
One of the Colorado Charter Institute's charter schools, MacLaren is for grades 6-12 and will be spotlighted via live satellite during Saturday's kickoff in Houston of National School Choice Week.
"It allows schools to focus in on one model or method and do really well, instead of being a one-stop shop of every good initiative that's out there," Hall said. "Parents can then do their homework and see which model really fits their children."
In competing for students and state funding based on enrollment, public schools have stepped up marketing, with television and radio ads, direct-mail and events.
The goal is to not only attract new students but also retain existing students, said Devra Ashby, spokeswoman for Colorado Springs School District 11.
"Marketing is necessary to remain competitive," she said.
Although students can enroll up to a few weeks before school starts, each school district has a "choice window" for applications from students who live outside the district boundaries or who want to attend a different school, especially important for high-demand schools where there is limited space.
The 2014-2015 window closes at different times for the region's three largest districts: Feb. 15 for D-11, Feb. 21 for Academy School District 20 and Feb. 28 for D-49.
Enrollment statistics the Colorado Department of Education released last week show the region's schools continue to swap students across borders, particularly those that are adjacent to one another.
The affluent and high-performing D-20 has 4,149 students from other districts this year, including 526 students who live in Lewis-Palmer School District 38, 1,315 students from D-49 and 2,036 from D-11. And 1,059 students living within D-20 boundaries are attending schools in other districts, for net gain of 3,090.
Manitou Springs School District 14 also remains a large choice school, with 39 percent of its 1,480 students coming from other districts, the majority from D-11 and Woodland Park School District RE-2.
In Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, 33 percent of the students living in the district this school year come from outside district boundaries. The district loses far less students - only 306 - to other districts.
The largest district to the east, Falcon D-49, has the most students from other districts this year, at 4,401. The majority are from an online charter school that joined the district in the fall.
D-11, the largest in the region, has the most students attending schools outside the district, at 7,013. D-11 also has 2,453 students that choice into the district from outside its boundaries. The majority are from Harrison School District 2, which has one of the poorest student populations, and state-sponsored charter schools. Conversely, 728 students who live within D-11 attend Harrison D-2 schools.
"Success looks different to every student. School choice allows students to select from a menu of educational options to meet their needs and set them up for success," Wurtz said.
NATIONAL SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK
LOCAL SCHOOL CHOSEN TO BE HIGHLIGHTED DURING KICKOFF EVENT
National School Choice Week, Jan. 26-Feb. 1cq, is a nonpartisan and non-political public awareness campaign to highlight education options for children. Planned by a coalition of individuals, schools and organizations, the week features 5,500cq special events across the country, including many local observances.
This year, a Colorado Charter Institute-sponsored school in Colorado Springs, The Thomas MacLaren Schoolcq, will be spotlighted during the national kickoff celebration.
Portions of a public rally at the school will be broadcast live 4-5 p.m. Saturdayjan. 25, via satellite during the opening event in Houston, Texas. The school is at 303 Austin Bluffs Parkwaycq. Several state representatives and senators, along with local city council members and education leaders, will attend.
The school opened in Colorado Springs in 2009cq and serves grades 6-12cq with a common classical curriculum of humanities, arts and sciences and no electives.
Andrew Campanellacq, president of National School Choice Week, said MacLaren “exemplifies everything that is right about school choice in America today — a challenging curriculum, engaged parents, students who are learning at high levels and unbeatable school spirit.”
The Gazette is sponsoring a “Choice in Education Fair” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.cq on Saturdayjan. 25. It will be held at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, in the recreation center gymnasium at 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkwaycq. Local public, private, religious, charter, online, alternative and home schools will have booths with information. The Rocky Mountain Montessori Academycq will provide free day care.
The Professional Association of Colorado Educatorscq, along with Parents Challengecq, a philanthropic educational choice organization, will host an event celebrating teacher and student school choice in Colorado Springs, 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday jan. 30at Colorado Christian University, 1125 Kelly Johnson Blvd., in room 115.cq Refreshments, door prizes, a panel discussion and school representatives will be available.
Divine Redeemer Catholic School will have an open house from 9 to 11 a.m.cq on Wednesdayjan. 29 at the school, 927 N. Logan Ave.cq A breakfast, presentations by students and tours will be offered. The school serves pre-K through eighth grade with a student enrollment of 200cq. Call 234-0325cq for more information.
The Academy for Advanced and Creative Learning, a public charter school in Colorado Springs School District 11 that specializes in gifted education, will hold a kindergarten night for parents 6-8 pm. Thursday jan. 30 at 2510 N. Chestnut St. Call 434-6566 for more information.
K-12 students at Pikes Peak Prep Charter School in Colorado Springs will compete against charter school students at 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind., in art and essay contests from Monday through Friday Jan. 27-31. The Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation will sponsor the contests.
A “Put Kids First” rally will be held Wednesday jan. 29 at 10 a.m. at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The American Federation for Children, an educational choice proponent, and 16 other organizations are sponsoring the event.