This week is National School Choice Week, a national movement celebrating options in education. As a public school teacher and mother, I couldn’t be more proud to support this coalition of educators, families and communities in recognizing the great progress Idaho has made in serving the needs of all stakeholders.
I am a teacher at a school of choice, the Idaho Fine Arts Academy, and my middle school students, principal, fellow teachers and school community are behind me in celebrating choice. I am proud to say my school district, West Ada, is a believer in school choice, as we have over 30 schools of choice within our district. This means that students, parents and educators have the opportunity to choose an educational setting that meets their interests and supports their academic needs.
Although we rightly focus on students when discussing choice, teachers are benefiting from options as well. How has school choice made a difference in my life? Early in my teaching career my husband and I moved to Los Angeles so he could pursue his master’s in professional writing at USC. I was looking for work in Los Angeles and I was advised to find a position in an independent school. I found a great fit teaching at a private school. I had a choice and made a choice to find a school that was a fit for my teaching expertise and my personal background.
My own children both needed a school of choice. Both are artistic and their needs were met mostly in summer arts programs. When my son was in fifth and daughter in third grade, the West Ada School District opened the magnet arts school, Christine Donnell School of the Arts. This school provided them with amazing art opportunities within the school day and also the flexibility to meet my son’s musical needs.
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My son began playing the trumpet at the age of 6. The public school system allowed him to begin playing with the middle school band in elementary and with the high school band in middle school. Happily, he thrived for a long portion of his academic career with public school choices.
In high school it became more difficult to meet his musical needs within the public school day. It was then that we began to look at other school choices. We found a private school in our area that provided him with a strong academic education but allowed his music to be the focus. He thrived at ArtsWest his junior and senior years and went on to secure a full scholarship to the University of Miami. He graduates this year with a degree in trumpet performance and is applying to graduate schools. His goal is to be a member of a symphonic orchestra, and both public and private schools of choice were an important part of his educational experience.
I was so energized by my children’s experiences at Christine Donnell School of the Arts that I returned to the classroom and became the school’s eighth-grade teacher. I had the opportunity to teach not only both my children, but also work with amazing students, families and educators who embraced the arts.
That school, ArtsWest, is now the Idaho Fine Arts Academy, a performing arts public school. Students are at the center of school choice and our goal as educators is to provide them with an excellent education. Through grit, creativity, collaboration and innovation, we will lead the way to educational opportunities that can now only be imagined.
I share my story for a reason. School choice definitely has advanced my career and the academic lives of my own children. I love teaching in a school that ignites my passion of the arts. I am proud to be a “school of choice teacher” and I’m proud to be a member of Northwest Professional Educators, a professional association that supports educators in all settings here in Idaho.
This National School Choice Week, let us come together to recognize the benefits of opportunity and choice. There is cause for celebration here in Idaho.
Shawna Exline is the 2016 West Ada teacher of the year.