The Fort Wayne Community Schools chief led a frank conversation Monday about the challenges the district faces in light of expanding charter schools, the growing voucher program and funding decreases.
FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson told board members that changes in the education landscape could lead to fewer students and dwindling funds – at least if the district doesn’t put up a fight.
Moving forward, she said, FWCS must do a better job of touting its successes and correcting those who spread misinformation about the district.
Now that schools and districts must compete for students, Robinson said FWCS has to change the way it does business. To do so, she said, it must first make sure everyone knows about the quality education the district provides.
Robinson said some of the districts’ charter school competitors have misrepresented certain facts about FWCS, particularly when it came to the district’s record with minorities, and black students in particular.
“One of their targets is to distort the data of FWCS,” she said. “People get a little bit loose with the facts.”
In fact, Robinson said, scores for the district’s black elementary and middle school students have been improving for the last three years – as have scores districtwide. The district will hold an event Thursday to discuss the most recent ISTEP+ scores in greater detail, she said.
“We’ve got to tell our success stories,” she said. “We have to personalize what it means to be a part of FWCS.”
To keep students from leaving the district, Robinson said FWCS would need to initiate door-to-door campaigns – similar to efforts launched by area charter schools – with as much direct contact with parents as possible.
She said school principals and others are already keeping track of which families plan to leave the district and why they return. In the future, she said, district representatives should emphasize the recreational and education opportunities that FWCS provides. In addition, she said, they should stress the individual attention students receive from district educators.
“We’re going to win this challenge one kid at a time,” she said, later adding, “We would not have had a bond pass if a large percentage of people didn’t believe this was a district worth investing in.”
School board President Mark GiaQuinta said it would be in the district’s interest to create a “hostile environment” for charter schools by protesting their move into the community.
If people put up a fight against charter school operators, he said hopefully they will set their sights on places such as South Bend or Indianapolis.
To date, he said, none of Fort Wayne’s three existing charter schools has proven it can be successful.
“Clearly it doesn’t matter how well they do or don’t do,” he said. “It’s all about creating more of them.”
In other business, the district announced several administrator staffing changes.
Michael Christner will become assistant principal at Memorial Park Middle School. Benjamin Jagger will become assistant principal at Shawnee Middle School. Andrew Wood will become assistant principal at Snider High School. David Berg will become assistant principal at North Side High School.
Wayne Athletic Director Steven Townsend will move to an undetermined classroom. Retired Wayne basketball coach Murray Mendenhall III will serve as interim director.
Tim Captain will become assistant principal at New Tech Academy in Wayne High School.