‘We Exist’: One Public School Teacher and Board Member’s Journey Advocating for School Choice

When many people think of school choice, they think of programs that help students who live in struggling areas where the public schools are not always the best choice for a successful education. Loudoun County, Virginia however, is not one of those counties.  

The county schools are exceptional. The district boasts graduation rates one time exceeding 95 percent as well as excellent academic facilities and programs. Regardless of that success, the public elected a local school board in November 2011 that included primarily pro-school choice members who hoped to offer some educational options to the families in Loudoun County. As an elementary public school teacher and spouse of a public school teacher, I was privileged to have been one of them.

Among a variety of issues that I felt needed to be addressed, such as more transparency and a renewed commitment to responsible spending of tax dollars, was the need to acknowledge the importance of educational choice. Because I was a public school educator, the assumption was that the only model of education I’d ever support was that of a traditional public school. The fact is I am a supporter of education, period. I recognize that education can be obtained in a variety of ways, including public schools, private schools, charter schools, and home school. I firmly believe there is not a one-size-fits-all delivery of education.

I felt I brought a unique perspective to the board, but with that came challenges. As I progressed during my term on the board, it seemed that the educational community was not quite ready to hear such a message, especially not from a public educator.

From the very start of my term, I saw the defenses from the educational community, school staff, and some residents come to the forefront. There were objections to money leaving public schools when students left for other options, fears that the established, successful curriculum would disintegrate, and concerns that students would not receive certain specialized services.

Parents want a choice. They want a choice not because the schools in Loudoun are sub-par, but because charter schools recognize what the educational community willingly admits, but doesn’t always address: Students have unique needs, and not every student can or should be taught in the same way.

Despite assuaging their concerns and offering ample research to support choice, many refused to compromise. To say I challenged the status quo is an understatement, but I stood firm in my commitment to educational choice and strong educational practices.

Midway through my second year on the board, I was approached by a group of parents who aspired to develop a charter school in their rural community. Their desire for a charter school was not stemmed from the existence of a “failing” public school. They simply wanted to provide an alternative to the traditional public school setting and draw parents and students to their unique approach to education.

At the start, many cynics said it could never work—that no one would withdraw from the district’s excellent schools and travel great distances for a simple change in curriculum. As logical as their predictions might have appeared to be, those cynics turned out to be dead wrong. Now, Middleburg Community Charter School is currently finishing up its first year in operation and has just completed enrollment for the coming fall with dozens on the waiting list.

Parents want a choice. They want a choice not because the schools in Loudoun are sub-par, but because charter schools recognize what the educational community willingly admits, but doesn’t always address: Students have unique needs, and not every student can or should be taught in the same way.

I was proud to have worked closely with that group of parents to bring forth only the second charter school in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia to serve elementary students and the first to offer educational choice for the sake of choice.

Charter schools are not the only way I am working to see that educational choice is alive and well in the county I serve.

In addition to co-owning a business that develops educational courses and enrichment resources for homeschoolers, I was also involved in the development of a new private parochial school.

Why do I dare share this knowledge? Certainly for me, there is risk in so openly supporting private, charter, or even homeschooling options. As a public school teacher, I risk being shunned by my colleages. As a school board member, I risk people questioning my commitment to public education. As a parent and member of my community, I risk being misunderstood. However those risks are not just worth it; they are necessary.

It is incredibly important to recognize that someone involved so passionately in the public school realm can also be an advocate for educational choice. Is it common for those like me to speak out publicly? Unfortunately, not so much. But do we exist? Absolutely…and there are more of us than most realize.

Many, like myself, dedicate our lives to working within and improving the public school system while supporting educational choice. What’s more, none of what I’ve done in education is to disparage the public school system. In fact, I feel my efforts have had the exact opposite effect.

I believe improvement can occur only when options abound, allowing for self-reflection and the invoking of challenges that force us to evolve for the better. Just as society frowns upon the practice of employing one solitary approach to medicine, investing money, or building a business, so it should with education.

We must continue to innovate to progress, whatever the industry. Very few anti-school choice advocates would argue otherwise, but the reality is inspiration to innovate comes from competition, the freedom of the public to choose from a variety of options, and the recognition of the value of individuality. Education—the key to our children’s futures—can and should be built upon those same principles.

And that’s something I’ll never be ashamed of supporting.