Schools for profit or principles
Randall Sellhorn, Board of Education Treasurer
Being a school board trustee has been a concurrent career for me. By vocation I work for a national insurance company. By choice my career of significance is being an advocate for the students attending our community schools. I read a great deal about business activity around the country in my vocation. And I read a lot about education as part of my commitment to stay current with the finances, security, administration and the politics of schools. Recently one of the business publications I follow crossed into both areas of interest. Crain’s Detroit Business recently published an article about National Heritage Academies (NHA). Chandler Woods Charter Academy in Belmont is a NHA school. By my observation of the students who transition to RPS in middle or high school from Chandler Woods, it is a good school. The difference between RPS and Chandler Woods, is that Chandler Woods is a for-profit business, like my employer. While I believe the best choice for families with school-age children in our area is to send them to the Rockford Public Schools, other area schools such as Chandler Woods Charter, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Consolation, and Rockford Christian are also good options. They have to be in order to attract students from Rockford families. In fact, attracting families from traditional public schools was the political purpose of charter public school academies: to create a competitive environment for schools, make available education choices for families in communities where schools were unsatisfactory, and to improve education for any student in Michigan.
According to Crain’s Detroit Business, National Heritage Academies will operate 22 charter public schools in the Detroit area — more than twice the number operated by any other charter school competitor operating schools in the Detroit area. Crain’s also reports NHA is the largest operator of Michigan charter schools, running 47 schools. The next largest management company is the Leona Group, which operates 21 schools, Crain’s reports. NHA Vice President of Partner Services and Government Relations Nick Paradiso told Crain’s that NHA is now looking to expand further outside of Michigan. Paradiso cited Michigan’s declining population, telling Crain’s that “We’re seeing a greater competition for a smaller number of students.”
Why would they be looking outside of Michigan to expand when they are already the largest charter school management firm in the state? They manage 29 charter schools in seven other states. I reread the last quote again, “We’re seeing a greater competition for a smaller number of students.” They are in competition for students to generate a profit and I concluded from the statement that winning the competition and generating a profit is the most important thing. They might have also concluded to look outside the state because of a declining foundation grant, the revenue source for all public schools.
RPS is in competition for students as well, not to produce a profit, but to produce a quality education with numerous opportunities for a diverse student population. It is the guiding principle we make with every budget decision we make. In my 18 year involvement with RPS, we have neither produced a profit or a loss, but we have produced a generation of adults that are successful in a variety of careers too long to chronicle here. Expanding outside of Michigan in not an option for a community school like Rockford. We compete by developing opportunities for our families and students like, Mandarin Chinese classes, Spanish Immersion education, caring special education services, an extraordinary alternative education high school River Valley Academy, award winning performing arts and athletic groups, exceptional advance placement academic classes in the high school for early college credit, and we are adding this year concurrent enrollment classes with our partners at Ferris State University, in which high school students will be able to experience college-level education expectations and earn college credit in college classes at our high school building. Potentially a high school student enrolled concurrently could complete classroom studies equivalent to 1½ years of college. College credit with tuition paid by RPS.
Are schools for profit or for the principle of creating community with the education options available? Do you run to greener pasture or do you compete by growing greater opportunity for all students? We stand on principle, we grow.