Jefferson Co. recognizes National School Choice Week

Evolution Academy hosted an event to spotlight the benefit of alt education.

Jefferson County Commissioners and County Judge Jeff Branick issued a proclamation declaring the week of Jan. 22-28 to be School Choice Week because, according to the supporting document declaring the special designation, “all children in Jefferson County should have access to the highest-quality education possible.” 

The elected leaders believe the topic needs to be discussed in an effort to “raise awareness of the need for effective educational options.”

All around the country, thousands of school choice supporters are taking their plight to elected and appointed leaders on local, county and state levels.

Held every January, National School Choice Week is an independent public awareness effort designed to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options. Through more than 20,000 events across the country, National School Choice Week raises public awareness of all types of educational choices available to children including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools and homeschooling.

The events in Texas, which are independently planned and independently funded, include everything from information sessions and open houses at schools to rallies, policy discussions, and movie screenings organized by community groups. Highlighted events included a large rally for school choice held Jan. 24 at the state capitol building, organized by Brendan Steinhauser.

“This annual event is a reminder to our legislators that parents in Texas want more education freedom,” Steinhauser said. “The demand for more school choice is widespread, and it’s time for Texas to join the growing number of states that allow parents the opportunity to choose their child’s education.”

In Beaumont, Evolution Academy hosted an event aimed at spotlighting the benefit of alternative educational settings. Principal Veronica Durden said the event’s focus was aimed at “actually supporting parents and their right to make a decision as to what type of school their child attends.

“It’s all about parent choice.”

There are a lot of misconceptions about non-traditional schools, she said, and explained what Evolution Academy actually is.

“To start, we are state funded as well,” Durden began. There is no tuition costs to attend the school, and the school is Texas Education Agency accredited and follows accountability standards set forth by the state regulating agency.

“We’re smaller,” Durden added, as the campus boasts no more than an 18:1 student/teacher ratio, “and we develop rapport, relationships with our students.”

“One of the benefits of charter is that typically our class sizes are smaller,” she said, but quickly thought of another big boon to charter education. “Our school day is also only 4 hours and 15 minutes.

“We’re able to offer our students the opportunity to earn a diploma in only 4 hours and 15 minutes a day. These students are not earning a GED, either. They’re getting the same education as a student in traditional public school.”

Durden said Evolution Academy is also interested in the students after high school.

“We are focused on them at the next level,” she reiterated time and time again. “The end is not the diploma. We really take the time to guide students, and all of our students apply for college.

“A lot of our students choose the military, but every student has the experience of applying for post-graduate success.” In response to the hard work put in by Durden and her team, she said, “each year our graduation rate has increased.

“The first year (2013-14), 52 students graduated who were at one time considered dropouts. This is our fourth year here in Beaumont, and we currently have about 190 high school students that we’re servicing.”

Currently, the campus only accepts high school students, but the campus’ zone isn’t restricted by city boundary lines. According to Durden, students are accepted from Port Arthur, Beaumont, Hamshire-Fannett, Hardin-Jefferson, to name a few.

“Unfortunately,” she said, although Evolution is an open-enrollment state-supported charter school, since they are not a “public school,” there is zero funding available to the campus from the state for facilities. Right now, that’s keeping the campus small.

“Funding would help enhance any program,” she said, “if more funds are available for facilities, the more we could do.”

Until Texas changes the funding system, however, Durden said the community can be of assistance in participating in the campus’ service to students.

“We want our students to have job-shadowing and mentorship opportunities,” she said, adding that a poll of the students revealed the most interest in the fields of nursing, child care, and cosmetology. “Our goal is to give students the opportunity to reach their potential.”

To best serve our children, Durden said, adults would do well to remember a little nugget of advice: “Think about the students and not get so caught up in whether it’s public or private.

“If we stay focused on that, then we’ll do better at servicing all our kids.”

For more information on the options and availability of school choice, visit www.schoolchoiceweek.com.

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