FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo, Lavinda Trammell, of Tacoma, Wash., who said she is a parent of a child that attends a charter school, holds a sign during a rally in support of public charter schools at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. A lobbying campaign to save Washington’s charter schools spent nearly $1.9 million to influence the public and state lawmakers, according to documents filed with the state. Organizers of the campaign believe lobbying by charter school students, their parents and people who live in places where they would like to have a charter school made more of a difference than the TV ads, robocalls and mailers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP
Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

OPINION: Let’s move beyond ‘us versus them’ mentality in charter school debate

RaShaun Holliman is senior vice president of advocacy and government relations at the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

In this guest column at the start of National School Choice Week, Holliman talks about his decision process in choosing a charter school for his own son.

By RaShaun Holliman

Before the age of 30, I taught in the classroom, ran a vocational program, and even led a school as a principal. All of that education experience, while helpful, cannot match the life lessons I have learned as the father of a teenager. 

Being a parent isn’t easy, and being a black father comes with the additional hurdles of making sure your black son is prepared for the world he will face when he is on his own. 

That outlook led us to send our son to a different school between his freshman and sophomore year. During  National School Choice Week, which starts today, I want to share the questions raised by my experience of choosing a school for our son. 

In today’s hyper-politicized environment, some would say we made a controversial decision. Not because we moved him during his high school career, but because we moved him from a traditional public school to a public charter school. 

We were lucky enough have the ability to choose between two quality public schools. When we relocated to Georgia, our family was fortunate to find a nice rental in Midtown Atlanta where we could send our son to Henry W. Grady High School, the highest-rated public high school in the Atlanta Public Schools district. Grady has a 90% graduation rate, a strong honors program, and other aspects that would impress any parent.

After his freshman year, however, we faced a tough decision. Our son was having a difficult time building social connections at the school; many students had already formed their “cliques” as they moved to the high school from the feeder middle school. Remaining at his current school would mean keeping our son in an environment he was struggling in. 

Although I work for the Georgia Charter Schools Association, an advocacy and support organization for Georgia charter schools, I didn’t feel like an education expert or an advocate during this time, I just felt like a dad making a crucial decision for his son. 

RaShaun Holliman

In the midst of this decision, I was invited to KIPP Atlanta Collegiate’s College Signing Day. I walked into a mega church filled with students and parents who were cheering and dancing to one of the best high school bands I have ever heard. Anyone who has been to an HBCU homecoming would know this scene: step teams doing routines, drill teams dancing while the band plays “Old Town Road,” and family members waving signs. 

This all led up to seniors walking on stage one-by-one in college gear and announcing the college that they would “take their talents to” after graduation. What struck me, was that they were not there to cheer on a sports team. Instead, they were there to celebrate educational advancement! 

As the event went on, I began to imagine my son having this same experience, and I wondered if this school would be a better fit for him. 

Soon after, our family discussed the possibility and made the decision to enroll him at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, an APS charter high school with some of the highest graduation, college enrollment and persistence rates in the entire district. The school also has a smaller number of students and a culturally relevant curriculum. 

My son is now a sophomore at KIPP where he has a high GPA, a solid group of friends, and enjoys the smaller school environment that he says seems like a family. As a black father, I am confident this option has allowed me to set my son on the path best for him, a path not dictated by our income but by educational opportunity. That’s the beauty of having a public charter school in our district; it gave us another public school choice option that better fits our son.

My experience has raised these questions: At what point do we move beyond an “us versus them” mentality and recognize that public charter schools, when done right, give parents a much-needed and often life-changing public school option for their child? Shouldn’t parents be able to choose the education that works for their child, instead of it being dictated by a five-digit zip code at the end of their address? 

Here in Georgia, families’ options extend to private schools, online schooling, and homeschooling. But public education has been and continues to be a crucial path of opportunity for the African American community. I believe public charter schools can complement our traditional public and public magnet schools, enhancing our education system. 

I believe we promote high-quality public education wherever it is found, and be grateful for the public charter schools that give our children another avenue to success.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.