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Today's word on

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Those were the days:

"The way I had it is all gone now. The bars are
gone, the drinkers, gone. There remain the smartest, healthiest newspeople in the history of the business. And they are so boring that they kill the business right in front of you."

--Jimmy Breslin, newspaper columnist, 1996 (Thanks to alert WORDster Jim Doyle)


Charter school targets students' needs, has high expectations

By Diana Taylor

January 28, 2005 | The students at Thomas Edison Charter School line up at the start of each day in the gymnasium. The organization and order is just one expectation at the school. Principal Eldon Budge welcomes the students, and then one student leads the group in the pledge of allegiance. After they say the pledge the students return to their classrooms with their teachers in single file rows, one class at a time.

Many parents in Cache Valley have found their schools do not meet the needs of their children, many of these parents have turned to Thomas Edison Charter School (TECS). This year there are 357 students enrolled, the school has the ability to expand to a student body of 450.

"If the neighborhood schools are not meeting the needs of students they will come here and I will do everything I can do to make it better," said Principal Eldon Budge.

The present campus will mostly likely need to go under construction this summer in order to accommodate the number of families interested in sending their students to TECS.

"We decided if we are going to do school we are going to give the tax payers the best deal they can get because we are supported by your taxes," said Budge.

TECS is patterned after successful schools of choice in Mesa, Arizona where Budge used to work. Three years ago the Petersen family moved to Cache Valley from the Mesa area.

"They discovered that one of the leading schools in Cache Valley could not meet the needs of their children," said Budge.

The Petersens began the process of getting a charter school in Cache Valley and TECS was started up.

The school uses the Spalding program, which focuses in the language arts area. Even though the program has been used nationwide for more than 50 years, it is not well known in Utah.

"The Spalding program is just catching on, and it just plain works," said Budge.

The school focuses on high expectations for both parents and students. The school expects a high involvement level from parents and at least four hours of volunteer each week.

Maren Wendel a first grade teacher at TECS said that it was hard finding a school to teach at in Cache Valley, and when she visited TECS she found it was the school of her dreams.

"The parents are involved and the principal said he would be giving me lots of help," said Wendel.

One frustrating thing for Wendel was after she agreed to teach at TECS she had to take a course in order to learn the Spalding program.

"It is frustrating because you learn a lot about group work in college and then we don't use it at the school," said Wendel. "A lot of things I learned, really don't apply but the basisc are the basics and they always apply. It's always nice to learn new things."

Budge said that all teachers are required to take a two-week, three credit-hour course in order to prepare them to teach in the Spalding Program. Budge said that they assume that what their teachers are taught is not what they want, so all the teachers, whether old or new, attend training meetings six days before the beginning of the school year to learn new skills.

"We try to give the teachers the skills they need to be prepared and successful," said Budge.

Faculty meetings that are held frequently at the school are focused on teaching methods more often than school policies.

Wendel said she was amazed at the things that her first-graders can do. "The students (at public school) didn't know what odd numbers were," said Wendel. "My students think odd numbers are old stuff."

TECS currently has grades K-7 but are looking to expand to a K-8 program in the future. Students who finish the seventh grade go back into the public schools in the valley. When Budge was in Mesa they assessed the effects of students who attended the Franklin schools and then went on to public schools.

"The bottom line was we did a great job of preparing them," said Budge. "But if they didn't hold on to the tools they were taught, they slipped back into the mainstream. Those who did hold on to them were very successful, including one Harvard graduate."

Budge pointed out that they accept all students at TECS. If there is a child with disabilities they find out how they can help them and if the parents believe it will meet their child's needs then they are enrolled. There is no selection process or discrimination of any type of students.

"They are the mainstream of students and we teach them great skills to help them be successful," said Budge.

The State Board of Education recently approved a second charter elementary school in Cache Valley. This school will be located in the southern part of the valley and though it will be patterned after TECS it will have its own board.

Fifty of the students currently attending TECS are from the south part of the valley and many more would love to enroll their children, but the drive to the school's campus in North Logan is too far. This new campus will meet those needs, and is anticipated to open next fall.

According to the National Charter School Directory, in 2003 there were 2,685 charter schools in operation. There were almost 685,000 students enrolled nationwide. In Utah there were 19 charter schools in operation with 1,250 students enrolled. In Logan there are two charter schools Fast Forward Charter School (a High School for at risk students) and Thomas Edison Charter School.

Parents who are interested in TECS are welcome to come to the school where they can sit in on classes and observe the teaching methods. Budge says that he has parents visiting almost everyday interested in seeing the school.

"The parents of our students are talking to their friends, and are telling them how it really works," said Budge.

He acknowledges that the school isn't for everyone. Budge believes that one way to help our public schools is to become involved, and not just visiting the school twice a year for parent teacher conferences.

"Parents need to roll up their sleeves and become more of a part of their child's education," said Budge.

"Public schools need to become accountable to the public, and we need to ask them to do this."

Budge is a leader to both his students and teachers. As he walks the campus of the school two boys on the play ground approach him.

"Hi Mr. Budge! Do you know where the sleds are?" the boys ask.

Other students wave and many greet him with hugs, and Budge knows all of their names.


Copyright 1997-2004 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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