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Charter school group exploits success

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Last summer I wrote an opinion piece about how one teacher can change the world.

That column was one that I put a great deal of personal energy into because it was about how my son went from being a gamer who never left his room into a young man entering a Ph.D program for biomolecular toxicology because one teacher saw something in him and put his feet on the path he was meant to travel. I meant every word I said in that piece and still do.

What I was writing about wasn’t an attaboy for my son, or a advertisement for a school or an endorsement of any form of education — it was my way of thanking a teacher who’s meant a lot to my family.

I was contacted in the fall by someone telling me she was from N.C. Education Strategies and that the group had read my column and thought it was inspiring. I was told it was being read at conferences all over North Carolina and beyond and how wonderful it was that I had acknowledged that teacher and thanking me for doing so. The nice lady then asked me if I would be willing to do a short video about it that could be shown to other educators or potential educators.

Absolutely. I am a firm believer that teachers are the most influential adult force outside of the home that our children have. However, I have questions. First question is who is this for? What will it be about? Finally, since I can’t seem to find your organization but see you are on the North Carolina charter school board, are you part of a lobbying group? Will this video be used to promote teachers in all form of education, or is this going to be a promotional tool for charter schools? (An affirmative answer to either of the last two would have been an automatic no).

So we made the video, I even got my son on FaceTime so they could see him and let him talk to his former teacher. We were separated for interviews, so I felt the need to ask again — is this a promotional video for charter schools? I was very clear that if it was, I was leaving. I was there to talk about how teachers change the world, not promote someone’s idea of what the best form of education is. I was assured it was not.

In my interview, I was asked to give my thoughts on education in general. Those thoughts were pretty simple and I still believe them. These are not exact words, but this is my belief — there is no cookie-cutter method that works.

There are kids who thrive in every form of education from home-schooling to the most expensive private school, and no one method is better than the other. I don’t care what school you walk into, if it is the richest or the poorest, if it has a jumbo-tron or if it has metal detectors and bars on the doors — there are amazing teachers there who just want their students to succeed.

The example I gave was from my own family. My oldest son and oldest daughter were going to do well no matter where they were. My younger son is the one from the column. He needed a smaller environment because that is how he is wired; he needed to be in a small setting. So a charter school was, in fact, best for him.

My younger daughter was the exact opposite. She needed to be a small fish in a big pond and she found her place at Southern Nash and has had amazing teachers there to help her thrive. I have never once second-guessed pulling her out of East Wake Academy and sending her to my alma mater, a place everyone knows I love. She is where she needs to be.

When the video came out, my responses had been heavily edited. Even though the video itself was very good and shows much of the subject of my column, it’s very clear what it is intended to do. All the positive aspects of public education and teachers in general I had talked about in the interview were gone — and what I was seeing was a promotional video for charter schools. In short, I was lied to, and something very personal and meaningful to our family was exploited for the exact thing I was assured it would not be.

So this is to clear the air. I have never and will never endorse charter schools as being a better option than public education or vice versa. Is it a better option for some? Absolutely it is. Is public education a better choice for some? Damn right it is.

I refuse to accept that one is better than the other because the teachers in both are fighting with everything they have to educate our children. You can throw data out the window. That data does not mean a thing because none of it is collected the same across the board — so it means what you want it to mean.

There is nothing wrong with charter schools, three of my children graduated from one and it was great, but there is also nothing at all wrong with a regular public schools — my youngest daughter loves her school and the teachers there — and so do I, I could never imagine her being happy in school somewhere else.

What’s important is that the children are able to thrive in the setting they are in, period. That one teacher who sparks an interest is what matters — if there had not been a Nanette Warren to cross my path in sixth grade at Spaulding Elementary, I probably still would not watch the news, let alone write it.

My wife is a public school teacher, my sister is a public school teacher, my father was once a public school teacher, my mother-in-law is a public school teacher, many of my friends are public school teachers. I would never slap them in the face like that.

To the folks at the N.C. Coalition for Charter Schools: Next time, say who you really are — and don’t ever lie to me again.

Mark Cone is owner and operator of SouthernNashNews.com.

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