It Took a Pandemic for School Choice to Shine

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As the Coronavirus descended last March, we moved the 220 students and staff at MITCH Charter School, the only public charter elementary school in the boundaries of the Tigard-Tualatin School District (TTSD), into full, comprehensive online instruction within days. This was possible thanks to the high degree of autonomy and small infrastructure that are a hallmark of charter schools.

School choice has been important long before the pandemic, but the value of having options has perhaps never been as apparent as during this year of distance learning. Many parents just need a better fit for their child and their family outside of traditional public or private school settings, and MITCH provides that choice. Our autonomy lets us control our class sizes, our total building numbers, our curriculum and our finances.

With regard to the school closures, we let our teachers lead the way on how to best provide instruction to keep our students on track and learning successfully. MITCH teachers have done an exceptional job keeping students engaged and connected. Distance learning is not ideal for anyone, but it has also brought us new community building opportunities such as teacher-led evening cooking classes, parent led art classes, story times, and virtual community town halls.

MITCH was among the first charter schools to open following the passage of the Oregon Charter School Law in 1999. It provides K-5 instruction from its Tualatin location, and caps enrollment at 300 students from TTSD and beyond. While independent, we maintain a close and positive relationship with TTSD, which sponsors MITCH. To ensure all child needs are met, TTSD retains 20% of the state school fund’s per-child budget to provide literacy assessments, special education services, consultation on ELL services and transportation. Community-raised funds also help to cover operating costs. 

I believe staying intentionally small has created a stronger community bond between staff and parents. This was a big part of what drew me to MITCH in 2019. We keep our K-1 classes close to 20 students, and no more than 25 for grades 2-5. Because parents are at MITCH by choice, we find they are more committed to participating through volunteering and fundraising. As MITCH nears its 20 year anniversary, we retain a focus on whole-child education while placing new emphasis on building equity and diversity, and sharing the current MITCH approach with interested families. Our core instruction is augmented by art, music, P.E. and agriculture. More than a garden program, the Agriculture Class is fully integrated into the curriculum, and expands classroom lessons with hands-on exploration of scientific, social and cultural aspects of food systems.

We’ve enjoyed welcoming many new families this year. And while we all want to get back to in person school, I’m proud that we’ve navigated this challenge as a cohesive community of leadership, teachers, parents and students. We’ve appreciated that the broader community is seeing why school choice is important, and I’m excited to continue in a spirit of collaboration as we move forward. 

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