At the end of the 2011-12 school year, Rogers School in Jamestown will be empty of students. Children instead will attend Bush and Fletcher schools. The school is slated to be converted to a "maintenance facility" for the school district's use. A building with a library, classrooms, beautiful hardwood floor gymnasium, and wired for technology designated to become a warehouse? Seems like such a waste, wouldn't you say? But wait, Rogers School represents a community asset - a treasure, if you will - paid for and owned by the taxpayers of this community. Surely, a more noble purpose exists for this soon-to-be-abandoned school building?
Here's one: Lease space in Rogers School to a charter school. Currently, several interested residents from Jamestown and surrounding districts are exploring application for a charter school to provide parents a choice in the type of school they want for their children. NY Education Law -2852 states: "The board of regents ... considers the demand for charter schools by the community, and seeks to locate charter schools in a region where there may be a lack of alternatives and access to charter schools would provide new alternatives that would offer the greatest educational benefit to students." No charter schools exist in our area.
Moreover, the board of regents encourages charter schools to partner with low performing public schools and establish an on-going relationship with the school district.
A charter school is publicly funded; the money follows the child. It would be open to students in Jamestown and surrounding districts. Charter schools operate without the bureaucracy that often plagues traditional public schools. Application for charter school can be submitted by community residents, parents, teachers, school administrators, or any combination. The charter school, however, must show evidence of adequate community support: community individuals, parents, corporations, businesses, not-for-profits, others.
Focus for the charter school will be on high achievement and improving student learning. To the detriment of children's achievement, far too many school districts lurch from one pet fad theory to another with little evidence that the "new" idea will work. Rigorous research is available to guide districts, but the question remains: Why does research have so little impact on teaching and achievement? Few state or federal government policies directly affect teaching and achievement. What does affect achievement is the teacher: what good teachers do makes the difference. Teachers in high-achieving schools implement curricula and strategies with effect sizes greater than d = 0.40, the level where real change is seen in children's learning.
"Effect size" answers the questions: What works best? What has the greatest influence on student learning and achievement? It is a research method used with great result in medicine and agriculture. Dr. John Hattie's ground-breaking research on effect sizes in education provides the following information: Reducing class size from 25 to 15 has an effect size of 0.13 (no effect), but ensuring that children are taught basic skills to mastery levels (0.57) has a huge effect. Team teaching (0.06), multi-grade/age classrooms (0.04), and Whole Language reading instruction (0.06; used in Chautauqua County) fall in the "disasters" category with effects nearly at zero. In contrast, Direct Instruction reading (0.69) places in the "major influences" category along with the inclusive effect size for all Direct Instruction programs (0.81), and reciprocal teaching (0.86), a strategy that improves understanding of content material and increases comprehension skill.
The charter school interim board of directors specifies that the school will be structured to use programs that have proven effectiveness and supported by research. A public meeting will be held shortly after the 2011-12 school year gets under way to discuss the creation of a charter school and obtain public input.
Deann Nelson of Jamestown has masters' degrees in elementary education, guidance and counseling, and school psychology, and a doctorate in educational psychology.