Two weeks ago PennCAN, along with eight brick-and-mortar charter schools, hosted a breakfast for city, county and state policymakers to engage in an open dialogue about the role of charter schools in Allegheny County. We’ve hosted a similar event in years past, but the conversation was different this time. Rather than focusing on the charter operators and educators, we wanted to elevate the voices of parents who chose charter schools.

When school leaders and teachers talk about what makes their schools effective, they usually discuss what the schools do (e.g. an extended school day, intensive teacher training, project-based learning, etc.). Parents, on the other hand, often talk about how the school makes them feel.

As one charter school father explained, when he walks into his daughter’s school building, “you can just feel the love.” He described a school that welcomed his family and built a sense of belonging and community.

Another mother talked about how her son’s school views his disability as an asset rather than a deficit. She described how his teachers support him and celebrate his differences rather than making him feel like a problem to be dealt with. All of the parents who spoke kept coming back to the same theme – they loved their kid’s school because the school’s teachers and staff loved their kids.

As the mother of two young boys who agonized over finding the right school, I know the feeling. On school tours, I asked a lot of questions about curriculum, teacher retention, discipline policies, etc., but ultimately, when I made my decision, I chose the school where I could “feel the love.”

As an advocate and parent, I understand that love is not enough to produce great academic outcomes. Schools also need to have good leadership, challenging curriculum, high standards, and effective teaching practices. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, when a parent walks into a school, they all ask the same question: “Can I feel the love?”

Rachel is the Deputy Director of Policy at PennCAN.

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