Fresno, Visalia schools embrace educational diversity

National School Choice Week highlights “new normal” in education; seven schools in local regions host events to celebrate multitude of educational choices

National School Choice Week kicks off Jan. 21 to help educate parents on the multitude of education options available for their kids for the 2024 fall semester. (HockleyMedia/peopleimages.com on AdobeStock)
National School Choice Week kicks off Jan. 21 to help educate parents on the multitude of education options available for their kids for the 2024 fall semester. (HockleyMedia/peopleimages.com on AdobeStock)
Darren Fraser
Published January 18, 2024  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO, TULARE COUNTY – January is the month when parents are faced with the crucial decision of where to send their children for the fall semester, and to help educate parents on the diverse educational options available for their kids, the National School Choice Week (NSCW) is launching nationwide.

The event kicks off across the country on Jan. 21. As part of this decision-making process, seven schools in the Fresno and Visalia regions will host weeklong events to celebrate the multitude of educational choices available for students and to educate parents on making the right choice for their children.

Fresno and Visalia-based schools participating in NSCW include:

  • Big Picture Elementary School, Fresno – Jan. 22;
  • Crescent Valley Public Charter School II, Visalia – Jan. 23;
  • Endeavor Charter School, Fresno – Jan. 22;
  • Learn4Life-Kings Valley Academy II, Hanford – Jan. 22;
  • Learn4Life-Kings Valley Academy II, Tulare – Jan. 22;
  • Mendota High School – Jan. 22; and
  • Moosemoose Homeschool, Sanger – Jan. 22

As part of NSCW, over 26,000 schools, homeschool groups and private organizations will come together for week-long celebrations and to provide insight about the diverse school options available to parents and students. According to the organization’s website, NSCW’s mission is to inform, inspire and empower parents to discover what K-12 education options are available for their children.

THE BIG PICTURE

Christine Montanez is principal of Big Picture Elementary School in Fresno. Big Picture is a public charter school. The school has 200 students, grades TK-8.

On Jan. 22, the school will hold a rally to celebrate NCSW and the Great Kindness Challenge Week, which is a national event that encourages students to cultivate a culture of kindness.

Montanez said at her school, NCSW is a two-fold event. Because it is a charter school, Big Picture requires students to commit to the school each school semester. The school is in demand. Current students are offered early enrollment. For Big Picture, NCSW is about celebrating the fact their students chose the school.

“Over 75% of our students have already committed to returning,” said Montanez. “There are plenty of great schools out there. We’re celebrating our students.”

The school also has a high school. Montanez said six of 18 eighth graders at Big Picture committed to attending the charter’s high school when they graduate.

THE NEW NORMAL

A generation ago, the idea of parents relocating their children to new schools, particularly midyear, while not unheard of, was definitely not the norm. But times are changing.

Shelby Doyle is vice president of public awareness for the National School Choice Awareness Foundation (Foundation), which hosts NSCW. Doyle said there are so many education options available now that were not available even a generation ago, and that the new normal involves change.

“We started doing an annual poll of parents heading into NSCW four years ago,” said Doyle. “We ask parents how often they think about or actually make a change in schooling. In this year, our survey showed 73% of parents thought about making a change. Thirty percent said they had changed schools for a child in their household in the last school year.”

Doyle said NSCW began in 2011. She said the goal is to make it easier for parents to understand and explore their education options, whether they want to choose a traditional public school, public charter school, magnet, private, online or homeschooling option.

“We work with schools and homeschool groups across the country to bring those options to life,” Doyle said.

Doyle said Arizona and Florida are head and shoulders above other states in terms of offering school choice options. But other states are catching up.

“Montana added more school choices last year than anyplace else,” she said. “They expanded their open enrollment, they made public charter schools able to open for the first time ever. They expanded their private school choice program. They made online schools even easier and they made it possible for homeschoolers to take part-time public school classes. All in one year.

“It is truly the new normal and states that had not previously been particularly motivated to expand options like this are making big changes.”

A MULTITUDE OF OPTIONS 

According to a Jan. 9 press release, the goal of the Foundation is to make parents aware of their options. Most children in California attend traditional public schools. The state spends nearly $15,000 per public school pupil per year.

But a public school is not the only school option open to parents. As mentioned above, a public charter school is an option to a traditional public school. California has roughly 1,000 public charter schools. Of the seven schools participating in NSCW in Fresno and Visalia, five are charter schools. One in nine students who attend a public school attend a public charter school. According to the Foundation, charter schools enjoy greater autonomy than do traditional public schools when it comes to innovation. But as a result, charter schools are held to greater accountability.

Another option to a traditional public school is a magnet school. These schools usually focus on a particular theme, such as science or the performing arts. In 2023, California had about 400 magnet schools or programs. These were located in seven school districts. In 2022, actor George Clooney and others in the entertainment business opened a magnet school in downtown Los Angeles to prepare students for careers in the entertainment industry.

During the pandemic, online instruction became the norm for many school districts. California does not have an official virtual school, but there are multiple, independent online schools. Two of the largest in the state are California Connections Academy and California Virtual Academies.

Charter schools emerged from the pandemic as having fully embraced online instruction. To date, there are more than 30 online charter schools in the state. California Pacific Charter School offers free instruction for students in over a dozen counties.

Homeschooling is another option. Parents who elect to homeschool their children must notify the school between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15. The Foundation notes that financial assistance for homeschool programs may be available through charter schools.

Lastly, parents may choose to send their children to a micro school. According to the Foundation, a micro school refers to students gathering together in a small group to learn, explore and socialize. Instruction is provided by one or more adults. The appeal of these schools is their small group learning, which, according to advocates, fosters closer student relationships. Micro schools emphasize students as individual learners.

Darren Fraser
Reporter