The Warren Tribune Chronicle ran a great story this weekend on open enrollment. The article, Ins & Outs: As students swap districts, big money can change hands, highlights yet another option families have in Ohio. While they quoted one family who attend Austintown schools while still living in Youngtown, the reporter focused on the response of school districts to open enrollment.
The conversation was encouraging: school districts are responding to parental school choice by innovating and being more responsive to parent requests. Districts have shared privately that school choice is the impetus for positive improvements and now they’re talking more about it publicly.
As excerpts from the article show, the bottom-up accountability of school choice is working.
“Last year we were able to lower the number of students we lost by offering other academic options, including our new online school,” Austintown Superintendent Vince Colaluca said.
Colaluca said his staff has had to realize that the school district is not a monopoly and modern education, at least in the Mahoning Valley, is a competitive process.
“We have to meet our customers’ needs,” he said. “We are going to work on the professional development for our staff on customer services. We have to make our customers feel good.”
During a recent visit to the Mahoning Valley Robert Sommers, director of the Ohio Governor’s Office of 21th-Century Education, promoted open enrollment as one more option parents have when it comes to choosing how, and where, their children are educated. The system also serves as a way to foster “healthy competition” among school districts giving them more incentive to step it up academically.
Chad L. Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio, agrees.
“With more and more schools opting toward open enrollment every school district has to look at ways to improve, ways to compete with other schools if they want to keep students,” Aldis said. “If they don’t, they will lose out as more and more students leave to go to other, more academically sound schools.”
For parents like Danyel Minotti, it all comes down to having a choice. Although her family lives in Youngstown, Minotti’s four children go to school in Austintown.
“It’s an opportunity to send (the children) to a better school, to a safer school,” she said. “I saw an opportunity to do that, and I took it.”
But Connie Hathorn, Youngstown superintendent, said his district is fighting back by working hard to bring his students home. This year Hathorn restructured the school district by converting one of its high schools into a Visual and Performing Arts Academy in an effort to retain students, bring former ones home and, he hopes, attract new ones.
“It’s not easy when you see your students leaving,” Hathorn said. “But you have to realize parents have the right to choose. We’re working hard here, making some changes, working to give them a reason to choose Youngstown.”
We commend Dr. Sommers for his support of parental choice and the work of district superintendents like Dr. Hathorn and Mr. Colaluca to improve their schools to compete for area students.