Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews posted an interesting column yesterday about a Charter School proposal in Fairfax County. The premise of Mathews’ column is that charter schools and “rich” suburbs don’t mix. (Washington Post online text – not mine.) Mathews wrote about this topic because some former FCPS officials are proposing a public school charter to help low-income families. Mathews doesn’t like the idea. It’s not really clear why he holds this view exactly except that Mathews states, “Fairfax school officials have suggested to me that charters are just for struggling school systems.”
I think it’s impressive former Fairfax County Public Schools officials are “thinking outside of the box” when it comes to our county’s needy students. Why not? Addressing poverty doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all model.
Here’s one option I know that works and that FCPS officials might examine. A few years ago, my friend Terry introduced me to Mr. Tom Lewis – an impressive, retired DC police officer – who created The Fishing School in Washington, D.C. Mr. Lewis provides after-school academic programs for at-risk youth. The school is reliant on corporate and private donations as well as a major yearly fundraiser that my friend Terry organizes.
After I heard Tom’s story, my husband and I became supporters of this terrific school. Tom tells the heartbreaking story of his service in DC public schools as the on-site police officer. Many of the children would ask “Officer Tom” if he would be their dad. Tom learned that these children needed and craved personal attention. He realized there was a critical time period each day – from 3pm to 11pm – when these poor kids really needed adult guidance and a place to stay off the streets until a parent or guardian returned home from work.
When Tom retired, he took his policeman’s pension – bought a run-down crack house, fixed it up and opened The Fishing School to help needy children who wanted him to be “their dad.” Two years ago, ABC’s “Extreme Home Make-Over” learned about Tom’s remarkable story. Thanks to the ABC Network, that former crack house is now a shining new facility and some of the city’s most at-risk kids get tutoring help, a healthy meal and a safe place to play.
Tom was thinking outside of the box. Tom didn’t wait for DC Schools to come up with a solution. Tom didn’t wait for DC’s government to step in with funding. Tom took it upon himself to help break the cycle of poverty in his neighborhood and in his own way. The results have been incredible.
I like the fact that these former FCPS officials are engaging in some similar “out of the box” thinking. Maybe a charter school is one way and maybe it’s not. But what’s the harm in trying? If there are officials inside or outside of FCPS who can offer effective solutions that provide “wrap-around” services for poor families, then I for one want to hear more about it.