School choice: It's just around the corner - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

School choice: It's just around the corner

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Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms. Contact her at mreese@evtrib.com

Michelle Reese covered education for the Tribune, also blogging about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms.

Posted: Monday, February 13, 2012 1:35 pm | Updated: 3:34 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

Earlier this month, I did something I've said I was going to do for a long time: I took a tour of a charter school as a PARENT, not as a reporter.

Why? Let's just say I'm an over thinker. My kids are doing great at their school - our neighborhood district school. But I keep hearing and talking to people about this charter school and I wanted to go in with a different set of eyes.

I wasn't alone. The room was packed. More than 80 moms and dads (I swear I saw a few grandparents, too) were there to see what the school was all about.

I wrote a story late last year about the jump in charter school enrollment in Arizona. But there are other changes going on in Arizona education as well.

From Mesa and Gilbert to Tempe and Chandler, school districts are offering more and more choices for parents right there in their existing schools. And Arizona's open enrollment law allows parents to choose any public school they want, as long as there is room.

I decided to tally those options for my elementary school-age kids with just a brief look at what's available in my ZIP code (note: I stole this idea from Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who did his own presentation like this recently).

Using district websites, the GreatSchools.org website and the Arizona Charter Schools Association site, I found there are more than 81 elementary school choices within five miles of my ZIP code, including:

• 47 district schools; of those, one offers a "classical" approach, three offer "back to basics" and two have dual language classrooms.

• 24 charter schools, including several with a "back to basics" approach, a handful of Montessori schools and "arts" schools, and even a charter school for students with hearing impairment. One was a distance-learning school.

• 10 private schools (not including kindergarten-only schools).

There could be one more choice. too: homeschooling. Arizona offers one of the most open homeschool laws in the country and I have several friends who exercise this option.

Since I don't work in the same city I live in, I could also look at the schools within a few miles of work. Needless to say, that would bring my choices to well over 150 schools.

I choose to send my kids to my neighborhood school. We've been there for years, though each spring I do debate other options (just ask my husband and friends who hear about it over and over). Why? Because I can. Because I want my kids to be getting the best education possible. Just last year, I really struggled with where to send my middle child, not because I wasn't happy with our school, but because I knew a Spanish dual language program was opening up not far from us and she wants to learn Spanish.

In the next few years, even more options are opening up in the East Valley. Several districts have announced plans for back-to-basics campuses. Chandler Unified is expanding its gifted academy. Tempe Union is considering a Montessori high school. Three Mesa Unified junior high schools will offer blended learning classrooms for math.

Gilbert's Highland High School and Mesa's Red Mountain High School plan to adopt a new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) diploma program being created by the state.

A quick look online may surprise you if you're seeking other options for your students that may just be down the street or around the corner from your work or home.

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