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Op-Ed: River Cities Academy Charter School Would Be Good for Students

When our state legislators passed the Kentucky charter school law last year, we celebrated – and immediately got to work. We poured hours into researching and designing a charter school for a special type of student learner in the six River Cities of Northern Kentucky. We collected information for developing the best alternative school in the area, and we expanded and modified our idea based on feedback from more than twenty-five meetings with community leaders, consultations with all six superintendents in the River Cities, and countless interviews with students and parents.

But now, Kentucky legislators are threatening to pull the rug out from under us.

Imagine being given an empty building slab and working 16 months to draw up plans – developing, designing, and redesigning the architecture with input from the entire neighborhood. Then imagine finding no money to actually build anything. What a terrible situation. We’ve created a brilliant blueprint for a school, but our legislators are on the brink of denying funding for our charter.

Incremental funding is not needed, just an agreement that funding will follow the student to our school. Lawmakers are telling us that all our strategic planning and hard work might be worthless.

Our concept, the River Cities Academy, incorporates a longer school day, a longer school year, and a farm-to-school food program. Yet it costs less to operate than existing public schools (in other words, the River Cities Academy would save the state money). Our curriculum focuses on creativity, critical thinking, and social skills. Coursework involves exploring real-world problems in immersive project-based learning.

The River Cities Academy also will have a Homework Café, a place for students to go after class to complete individual work, get tutoring, practice social skills, and strengthen good relationships. The Café will offer a safe place for young children to continue learning and growing after the formal school day ends, while under the supervision and care of experienced and loving educators. Our programs would help stop a downward spiral and set children on a path to real-world success.

Innovative programs like ours are the reason legislators passed the charter school law last year. There is no one-size-fits all approach to educating children. Charter schools have flexibility that our public schools don’t to cater to special types of students who are outside the average. And the positive impact of charter schools won’t end with our students. At the River Cities Academy, we will share what we learn from our methods and programs with local public schools during annual meetings with district leaders so that we can collectively share discoveries for all students and teachers. 

River Cities Academy was designed by six parents (including me) who all live in the area and recognize that all children learn differently. Our founding parents collectively hold twelve post-secondary degrees across four disciplines, five states, and two countries. We developed our model after studying recommendations from respected educators across the country and nationally renowned grade schools. We worked tirelessly, with no compensation, to design River Cities Academy because we believe our children need it.

Our vision for River Cities Academy is teacher-powered. We hope to open our doors in August 2019 to 155 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with plans to add grades in future years, growing to 250 students. Our plan is strategic and our budget is sound. All we need is for the legislature to follow through with funding.

River Cities Academy will be open to all children living in the six River Cities, and just like other public schools, there is no tuition. Because the state already has funding for education, charter schools will not raise taxes, it will simply send a child’s share of funding to the school they choose to attend. However, the legislature must pass the funding mechanism so charter schools can open.

Kentucky legislators gave us the opportunity last year to design our ideal school. They must now follow through so we can turn our vision into reality. Time is running out, and the stakes are high. Failure means a useless law on the books – a theoretical idea with no real-world benefits, and a hollow promise made by elected officials.

Children in the River Cities and throughout the state are depending on legislators to open new doors with innovative schools. We have designed one. Now let us build it.

Lynn Schaber is a River Cities-area resident and one of the founding parents of River Cities Academy, a public charter school that would like to open.