National School Choice Week - Cathleen O'Daniel Morgan

National School Choice Week - Cathleen O'Daniel Morgan
Posted on 01/25/2019
National School Choice Week - Cathleen O'Daniel Morgan

This week is National School Choice Week and The School District of Lee County (SDLC) is proud to be a ‘school choice’ school district. With 24 charter schools, we are the second largest charter district in Florida. Our students and their families may choose the K-12 educational option that is best for them from among 96 traditional public schools, the charter schools, online schools, private schools and home schooling.

The school choice movement is about ensuring equity and access for all students to high-quality teaching, curricula, and the resources needed for academic success. In addition to rigorous core academic offerings, it is also about providing a variety of educational opportunities to prepare students for institutions of higher learning and those of employers. Transparency in opportunities, resources, and student outcomes at schools from which families may choose is key to successful operation of a school choice district.

Why is The SDLC a ‘school choice’ school district? In 2004, after extensive community input, The SDLC adopted The Plan for Student Assignment, an enrollment plan designed to maximize access to diverse educational programs, provide greater opportunities for students to attend schools closer to home, decrease ride time for students and reduce transportation costs. Our student enrollment plan promotes stability for students and encourages a healthy competition among schools striving for academic excellence. It also gives us the flexibility to offer a variety of academic and career academy offerings while controlling the costs of providing a rich learning environment.

How does The School District of Lee County’s student enrollment plan work? Our school district spans almost 900 square miles, so schools are organized into zones—East (Lehigh), South (Fort Myers, Bonita and Estero), and West (Cape Coral). When students are ready to enroll in elementary, middle or high school, parents and students enter a lottery based on the zone in which they live. The lottery provides preference for siblings and school proximity and, unless students move, they are allowed to remain in the school to which they are assigned until they finish the highest grade level. We believe stability in student assignment is one way to promote higher levels of student achievement in the District.

What kind of choices are offered to students and families?
Elementary schools differ in extracurricular offerings, including before and after school activities. Some elementary schools have uniform policies, some do not. In an effort to (1) limit the number of elementary offerings available to each family and (2) reduce bus times for elementary students, an amended elementary school proximity plan is in the works—one that will ensure access to the same extracurricular offerings at each elementary school.

For middle school students, there is diversity in non-core academic offerings, offerings intended to enrich curricular opportunities for students: Cambridge, International Baccalaureate, and Arts. At STEAM schools (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), students may earn professional certifications.

At the high school level, differences in offerings, resources, and opportunities are more pronounced. For students looking for challenging academic programs, there are International Baccalaureate, Cambridge, and Advanced Placement tracks. Each school zone also has an Arts High School, and schools specializing in engineering and technology. Schools also offer Career Academies like construction, aviation, HVAC, veterinary, nursing and teaching, for students who want to enter the workforce upon graduation.

Bottom line, The School District of Lee County offers career programs that correspond with local career opportunities and academic challenges suitable for a broad spectrum of student ability, interests, and achievement levels. That is what the school choice movement, and we, encourage and celebrate.