Ep. 353: What’s Up with National School Choice Week

January 19, 2023

On this episode of What’s Up with Mike McShane, two team members of the National School Choice Week Foundation, Shelby Doyle and Krissia Campos Spivey, talk about the exciting plans they have to celebrate this last week of January.

Mike McShane: Hello and welcome back to EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, director of National Research at EdChoice. This podcast is part of my series What’s Up With Mike McShane. And today we’re going to answer the question, what’s up with National School Choice Week? Many of y’all that are in the School Choice Base may be familiar with National School Choice Week. It takes place the last week of January every year and it’s a kind of broad spectrum School Choice advocacy week. You’ll see events at schools, you’ll see events at state capitals, you’ll see events really all over the place trying to promote School Choice in a very ecumenical fashion, whether that’s within the traditional public schooling system, public charter schools, private School Choice, homeschooling, micro schooling pods, whatever it may be, National School Choice Week is out to support it. And when I say that you might see an event just about anywhere, I was looking at their website about sort of the information within. I’m just going to read these two sentences of 2022.

“So in 2022 we worked with 22,086 schools and with homeschool organizations to plan or promote 26,299 community events and activities. We also partnered with 66 nonprofit organizations across 32 states to plan 45 large scale events.” Now if you told me that this organization just put on in one week 45 large scale events, I would say that’s pretty impressive. Like that’s awesome to see 45 School Choice related events all in the same week. But to know that in addition to those, they did another more than 26,000 is just incredible, it’s yeoman’s work, something they should really be celebrated for. We at EdChoice have been partners, have been doing School Choice Week events I think probably since the beginning of it, and we have a big one in Indianapolis this year. If you want to find out about it, you can find out all the information on our website.

But to tell us more about National School Choice Week, we have two representatives from the National School Choice Awareness Foundation, which is the organization that puts on National School Choice Week. The first is Shelby Doyle, who is the Vice President for Public Awareness. And then we also have Krissia Campos Spivey, who is a project director for a specific project that the National School Choice Awareness Foundation is doing as part of School Choice Week, but I think is also general outreach called the Conoce tus Opciones Escolares. Which obviously is specific outreach for Spanish language speakers and for the Hispanic community, which I think is just such a wonderful thing that the School Choice Movement is a part of. Remembering that the School Choice movement is a diverse one, people from all different backgrounds have all different needs for their kids and have all different desires and trying to do as much outreach as we possibly can to every single person in this country.

Regardless of their background, regardless of income, regardless of the language that they speak, et cetera, everybody deserves to have a great school for their child. And so to see that particular outreach, which we’re going to hear more about throughout the podcast is just a wonderful thing to see. So without further ado, here is Shelby and Krissia from National School Choice Week and the National School Choice Awareness Foundation. So Shelby, I believe it’s time. It’s January, it’s cold. Lots of people around the country’s necks are cold. I think a bright yellow scarf is exactly what they need. School Choice Week is almost upon us. So can you give us all the detail? I know it seems like every year the number of events, the places that they’re going on just grows like mushrooms in the countryside, just growing up everywhere. So what are the big plans for School Choice Week this year?

Shelby Doyle: So I’m really glad we’ve given the impression of constantly escalating because that’s what we seek to do with the week. So since 2011, School Choice Week’s been celebrated at the last week of January every year and this year is its 13th anniversary, which is crazy because I’ve been around for eight of them. And we have about 26,000 events happening around the country. Cool things that are going on this year. If you’re an old pro and you get School Choice Week, then you know that we celebrate every type of school. We work with schools and parents and organizations across the country.

What you may not know is that we are currently having our first pod day and a big push for micro schoolers to be involved in the week, which I think is really cool and exciting. As someone who K–12 was educated in homeschool co-op, I feel a lot of commonalities with the pod and micro schooling world. I think it’s really fun and exciting to see them step up to the week. And we’re also having an all-time record number of school fairs happen, so about 30 of them are happening around the country over the course of the week. And these are giant thousands of people, every type of school represented events, which I think are really the heart and soul, but we’re trying to accomplish with School Choice Week.

Mike McShane: And now you all are pretty ecumenical when you’re talking about School Choice. So I think maybe that could be helpful for folks. What types of School Choice are you talking about? How do you sort of partner with all of the different sort of organizations and institutions of people that are involved in all the different flavors of School Choice around the country?

Shelby Doyle: Yeah, so we do celebrate every single type of school. That means traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and learning plots of micro schools like I just mentioned. So that means working with every single school in the country that wants to celebrate with us. So we take that very literally. We reach out to every single school that we can find contact information on in the nation and we ask them, “Hey, do you want to celebrate School Choice Week this year?” A lot of them say yes, because we have been asking for the last 13 years for the most part. But we’re really proud that that’s a very well-balanced portfolio of schools who do choose to celebrate. When it comes to even private school versus public school participation in the week, that’s different than I think a lot of people would think. So for us, the public sector schools that participate, we have almost 8,000 traditional public schools are participating in the week this year. More than 4,600 public charter schools and 760 magnet schools in addition to thousands of private schools, homeschooling groups and online learning options.

Mike McShane: So if you had to pick, are there a couple events somewhere across country that sort of stand out to you that you’re really excited about?

Shelby Doyle: Oh, that’s so hard to choose. Yes, there are a few that I’m particularly excited about. So number one, the National Micro Schooling Center is having a really cool event in Las Vegas. It’s going to bring together all sorts of different micro schooling leaders and pod leaders and kind of put on a little bit of an expo, so people can get a better sense of what that type of schooling is. That’s one I’m really excited about because I think it’s something people have not seen before. We’re also seeing an amazing school fair that’s going to happen in Las Vegas as well that’s planned by the Nevada School Choice Coalition.

That’s been going on for a couple of years. But the thing that makes that event so special to me is one, it’s size; thousands and thousands of people come every year. It’s also something that is very bilingual and very accessible for families who speak both English and Spanish, which I think is really important and is something we’re working hard to make true of more and more events every year. It’s led by Valeria Gurr, who is a fantastic organizer and has been doing this for years and really is very committed to helping her community find schools no matter what type of school they are.

Mike McShane: Well, speaking about bilingual School Choice outreach, I mean you’re basically doing my job for me, which I really appreciate because Krissia, I know this is a relatively new initiative on the part of National School Choice Week, so I’d love to know what you’re up to.

Krissia Campos Spivey: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much. 2022 we launched in the fall, Conoce tus Opciones Escolares, which is project from National School Choice Awareness Foundation. That is we try to provide school navigation resources for parents to speak Spanish and we are the first project doing it in the scale that we’re doing it. We’re doing a lot of the things that National School Choice Week is doing, but we’re doing it in Spanish and with the idea of reaching parents with cultural relevance and also we started doing this connection to one-to-one with parents. So we are collecting information that they need, we’re responding their questions, and we’re creating even more content to supply these answers that parents are having right now. So we’re very, very excited. This is the first time we’re going to be having a lot of presence in National School Choice Week. We actually have 12 events, 12 large events where we’re going to have tables, we’re going to have people and resources for parents that are looking for information in Spanish. So very, very excited about this.

Mike McShane: That’s wonderful. And where are they going to be?

Krissia Campos Spivey: Absolutely. So we have events in Phoenix. We have this huge school fair in Phoenix, Arizona. We have another school fair in Colorado Springs. Like Shelby said, we have something going on a school fair in Las Vegas. We have one in Houston that I’m particularly excited about. We have one in Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Utah, New Hampshire, Atlanta, Des Moines, and Morrisville, Maryland. A lot of events.

Mike McShane: That’s wonderful. That’s great. So now I’m interested in sort of serving the Hispanic community and trying to connect them to school options. Are there particular issues or barriers that the Hispanic community faces in trying to access schooling options?

Krissia Campos Spivey: Yeah, absolutely. We have been doing a lot of research before we did this project. We were trying to understand the message and the people that we were talking to and we found actually that Hispanic parents are more likely to exercise and look for School Choice options than any other demographic group. We actually had some surveying that said about 59% versus 52 population in general. So I think one of the barriers are, one, the accessibility to information resources in Spanish. Second, we have also seen that often the Spanish-speaking community needs information more in the basic level.

Most of the inquiries we get actually are for first time enrollment and what kind of documentation you might need or what kind of steps you might need to take before you go and actually even access the school that you have been assigned to. So I think getting that information out there and getting information that is updated, that is unbiased, that it is accurate is something that we’re doing and we’re proud of doing. Yeah, so I think that’s one of the biggest barriers that we’re getting is the language and the lack of information in a grand level.

Mike McShane: Absolutely. So now I’m sort of curious just kind of in general. So National School Choice Week is obviously a week, but there’s 51 other weeks in the year. So I’m sort of curious from both of your perspective, how does National School Choice Week come together? When School Choice Week is over the next day, do you guys say like, “Alright, I guess we got to start planning for next year”? Just because to me the sheer volume of things that y’all do has to be just an incredible amount of planning. So I’m just sort of curious, does it start the day after School Choice begins? Do you guys all take a holiday and then come back? How does it all come together?

Shelby Doyle: Great question. So yes, the short answer is we do start planning again immediately. We actually have lots of schools that register for next year during this School Choice Week. So we will get thousands of schools that are like, “Sign me up, let’s do this again next year before we finish this current School Choice Week.” But we do take a bit of a breather in February. It’s not a particularly long one. And part of that is of our own making. We have increasingly, especially on the public awareness team side, we want to do more and more year round and put out more resources, make videos, write articles, all that kind of stuff. Our cyclical nature is sort of fading away and it’s just adding on in addition to School Choice Week. But the events and partnerships team is really who makes all of these events happen during the week.

And we start planning in the spring: booking venues, talking to partners about what they might want to do, and we work through the next 11 months to make those events happen for us on me and Krissia’s side of things. So Krissia, in addition to running Conoce tus Opciones Escolares is also our video guru on the team. So if you ever see a YouTube video or a well done social video, Krissia made that as well. She’s a very multi-talented lady and we are always working on things like that that can come out over the spring and summer. We really push parents to think about School Choice in January because that is a very practical time for them to start the process of choosing a school. But the fact of the matter is we get the biggest visitation to our website over the summer. That’s when people still think about where they want to go in the fall.

And so there’s a lot of things people need in August in addition to January. So we try to put out new things then and just keep that content fresh and available. Of course, spring legislative sessions also change policies on the state level in a lot of cases. So making sure that the many different formats of our state level information all get updated and are accurate, it’s huge and important as well. So there’s a lot happening a lot of months of the year, but of course the most fun time is School Choice Week because we get to actually come together with all these wonderful schools and organizers and parents and see the joy and faces, see the changes happening in families’ lives. And our public awareness team who spends a lot of time on our computers and not a lot of time with human beings in real life, get to actually see a little bit of the IRL payoff of all the work we do.

Mike McShane: So Krissia, I’m curious, what makes a good School Choice video? When creative hat is on, I assume because all these events happen, all these things are happening, you’re sort of flooded with this. What are you looking for? Because I imagine a fair number of people that are listening to this are similarly going to be involved in some way in the School Choice space. So what makes a good School Choice video?

Krissia Campos Spivey: Well, there’s many things that make a good School Choice Week video, but I think in general, I will say something that is positive. We want to shine a positive spotlight in education opportunity for all children. So positive, happy, we love to hear stories of how a parent or a child found their ideal School Choice environment for their needs. So we love to see that. We love to see school that send us videos of their kids having fun, learning and doing all of that. I’m actually very excited because this year we’re doing for the first time a video about how… like a little behind the scenes type of video for the rest of the world to see how we get to work and how it starts. Like you mentioned, there’s another bunch of other weeks during the week, not just National School Choice Week. I mean, how do we work as a team to put it all together?

So I’m very, very excited about that. Anything with scarfs always makes up for a wonderful video for National School Choice Week. But honestly, I will say what I love to see is some of my favorite videos that where kids are involved and they’re actually doing whatever their heart tells them. Sometimes kids are so creative and we got one year a video of a kid dropping a scarf and then picking it up and running with the scarf; it was just so beautiful and I think it was so representative of the joy and the positiveness of what National School Choice Week is.

Mike McShane: That’s awesome. So I’m sort of curious, since both of y’all have been involved in this for a few years, have you all seen things change over time? Whether it’s like the types of people that are coming to events, the types of people that are planning events, the types of events that people want to do? I’m just sort of curious, were events five years ago different than they are now in any way?

Krissia Campos Spivey: I can answer that. This is going to be my fifth National School Choice Week. I think overall, one change that I will say I have seen is that during the week, we can see that School Choice and National School Choice Week is diverse, it’s for everyone, it’s not just one type of school. We see schools from traditional public school, chartered, magnet, online, private homeschooling, pods, they all come together for the same thing. And I think I’ve seen that the most. Seeing that we grow in diversity of all kinds from people to school to languages and just showing more and more creativity into that big gigantic tent that we’re trying to make.

Mike McShane: Shelby, have you experienced something similar, sort of different folks, different even school options where maybe it was five years ago people were super excited about charter schools and now they’re super excited about something else or just sort of energy being different?

Shelby Doyle: Yeah, I can think of so many differences. Two things that really come to mind for me. Number one, so the very beginning of my time on the team, I actually worked on events as well as communications, which blessedly was a short-lived tenure because there are other people on the team who are much better at events than I am. But I remember a lot of things from that time. And number one, I think this is back in 2015, we were a lot of times really trying to sell state organizations on the value of having different types of School Choice work together on an event. There was very much a perspective of kind of a zero sum game and maybe the one type of school association doesn’t get along well with another and they don’t really want to work together on an event for School Choice Week. That has really faded away.

I think we’ve seen the proven value of having these statewide coalitions who believe in a variety of forms of School Choice work together on anything from events to other things throughout the year. And so we see people wanting to form those coalitions, which I love to see. It makes me very happy. Another big thing that I think I’ve seen a huge change in is how schools think about the week. Initially, I think when we first started having schools directly participate, they would get a kit and they would do a lot of times in-school activities or an open house. But schools have really kind of developed their own handbook of how they can benefit from the week and had ideas that we wouldn’t have had. So you have schools who’ve been doing this for 13 years now who maybe started off with an open house, but now they have this week-long community service activity that includes going on their local daytime TV morning show, and then on Thursday they have an award ceremony for best school spirit.

It has just evolved this whole week that we couldn’t have imagined they would put the time and energy into. But for them, it’s a time to really celebrate what makes their school special. And it’s really cool to see, it’s not just an enrollment opportunity for schools, they also see it as an opportunity to tell the story of their community and to have everyone take a breath and think about why they’re there. And I think that has huge dividends for schools too, outside of whether they’re recruiting new students, but also just to have that sense of comradery and community and have students be excited to be where they are.

Mike McShane: So now I’m curious for both of you, how did y’all get involved with National School Choice Week?

Shelby Doyle: Well, I got into School Choice Week because I had finished a previous job that was on a political campaign that had a very final end date. I was looking for my next opportunity and I knew someone who knew some folks at School Choice Week, so I started off as our press secretary very initially and have been on the team for eight years. But I was always interested in policy, particularly interested in School Choice policy myself, like I said, I was K–12 homeschooled. My older sister went to a performing arts magnet school and my younger sister did private and online school. So always seemed kind of like a no-brainer to me and it seemed exciting to work for an organization that felt the same way

Krissia Campos Spivey: For me, I love the opportunity to work with a nonprofit. I like working with ideas and I personally have seen the benefits of School Choice in my own family with my children. I have actually twins and I can see that even if I’m trying to do exactly the same with them, giving them the same clothes, giving them the same environment, they still are very, very different children. And the idea of working in education and highlighting the benefits of School Choice because not every child is the same, I’ve seen it with my own twins, just seemed like a really, really good fit for me.

Mike McShane: So now what will School Choice Week this year look like for each of you? Is it like every day you’re in a new city trying to do something? Do you stay in one place to kind of monitor? I’m just fascinated by how the actual staff works. So on our team like at EdChoice, during legislative sessions, which are much longer, we have some people that are traveling around state capitals and meeting with local coalitions and talking, you have people like me who are more like the numbers nerds and I’m just stuck to a computer mostly trying to help people out. But I’m just curious for y’all, is it planes, trains and automobiles or is it staying in one place or how do you get through it?

Shelby Doyle: I would say our department, Krissia and myself, and then we have a few other colleagues who are on the public awareness and communication side, we’re kind of the numbers people stuck at our desk a lot of the time. We try to get to an event if there’s something local to us as a conversation we’re currently having, which luckily there pretty much always is at this point. But we do not do the everywhere across the country thing. Especially for Krissia and myself, we have the opportunity to do a lot of interviews during School Choice Week and doing those not from a hotel room wifi is a good strategic plan. But we are a little bit jealous, I would say, of our events colleagues who get to actually go and see a lot of these events. I’ve actually been to two School Choice Week events in my eight-year tenure on the team because there’s just a lot happening on the media side during the School Choice Week. I’ll let you add onto that Krissia if you have a different feeling.

Krissia Campos Spivey: Yeah, absolutely. I think we get through it with a lot of coffee. Like Shelby said, we stay in the office right now from North Carolina and we’re just on the computer ready to jump in anything that has any particular need. For me particularly, I’m looking out for fun video stuff that we can put together and just showcase what the week is about. But yeah, staying at home with lots of coffee and water, staying hydrated.

Mike McShane: Always a good plan. Well, thank you two so much for joining the podcast today. For folks who want to find out more about National School Choice Week in general or Conoce tus Opciones Escolares… That’s my best. There we go, I got the thumbs up. Many years ago I studied abroad in Spain and the Spanish that I sort of got from that I unfortunately have lost and it’s something I need to work on. Maybe that’s like a good 2023 once National School Choice Week is over recommitting to that. But anyway, where can people find out more about that?

Shelby Doyle: So schoolchoiceweek.com is still the best starting point. We do have a website that’s dedicated to the foundation that runs the week and Conoce tus Opciones Escolares as well. That’s new and it’s schoolchoiceawareness.org if you want to get a little bit more of the behind the scenes. And then I’ll Krissia tell you the URL for her project because she’ll pronounce it better than me.

Krissia Campos Spivey: opcionesescolares.com

Shelby Doyle: I find for those of us who are poor Spanish speakers, the faster you say it, the better off you are.

Mike McShane: I just hope it all sort of flows together there. Fantastic. Well, Krissia and Shelby, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. I look forward to… Now that I know when I see all those great videos, I will know who was sort of behind all of them. We all obviously appreciate all of the work that you do. The super exciting week, it’s fun, it’s great to see the yellow scarves, right? It’s hard not to put a smile on your face. You got kids, there’s usually some dancing involved. It’s a wonderful thing. So thank you all for all the work that you do, and thanks for being on the podcast today.

Shelby Doyle: Thanks so much for having us, and thanks for holding down the School Choice podcast space, so that does not get added to our plates.

Krissia Campos Spivey: Thank you.

Mike McShane: You are very welcome. Well, that was a great chat. I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did. Part of this was just… A fun thing about having a podcast is that you get to sort of probe areas that you’re curious about and obviously being involved in School Choice, I’ve been going to National School Choice Week events for years, obviously followed them. I have any number of yellow scarfs in work desks and at my house. I have all of those things and all of the trappings from National School Choice Week. But I was actually kind of curious, how does this actually happen because 22,000, 25,000 events, whatever they’re going to try and do this year, all planned within one week, it’s just an incredible amount of work. So it was really fun to kind of peel back the curtain to see what’s going on, but it’s also wonderful to hear about the work that Krissia is doing. It’s so great that they’re having all of those events this year, and I hope that they’re able to experience the same kind of explosive growth that National School Choice Week has.

As always, I’m always looking for wonderful people to talk to on the podcast; more Shelbys and Krissias. And so if you know folks that are doing interesting stuff in the kind of broadly construed School Choice space, so if you know people who are starting new schools or are really passionate advocates or are basically doing anything kind of in the area of education doing cool and interesting things, please make sure to send them my way. I would love to chat with them and learn more about what they are doing. As always, please subscribe to the podcast on your local podcast provider. Give us high ratings, share them with everyone that you know; we would certainly appreciate that. It was a wonderful to chat with Shelby and Krissia today. Thanks so much for listening and I look forward to chatting with all of you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats and specifically, What’s Up with Mike McShane. Well, we’ll try to answer what’s up with something else going on in the American education system. Take care of everybody.