Florida charter school parents organize to gain clout, debunk myths

Florida charter schools, management companies and leaders are represented by at least two statewide organizations. But for years, charter school parents “were the lost group,’’ said Henry A. Rose, a longtime charter school advocate.

Rose decided to do something about it.

With help from the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, the Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit that counts about 400 charters as members, he and other parents formed Parents For Charter Schools in 2009.

Many charter school parents were involved with their local schools, but few knew the impact they could have in Tallahassee. The group, an arm of the consortium, now represents 4,000 to 5,000 members.

“I think a lot of them were surprised to learn, ‘Wow! We can make a difference,’ ’’ said Lynn Norman-Teck, the consortium’s spokeswoman.

Parents For Charters serves as a resource on schools, rules and legislation, and school choice issues. Kind of like a PTA, said Rose, a marketing and media consultant in Pembroke Pines.

Rose serves as co-chairman of Parents For Charter Schools and once led the Broward County public school district’s 250-school Parent Advisory Council. Though his children are grown now, his daughter taught in a Washington, D.C. charter school and his wife teaches at Franklin Academy Charter School in Pembroke Pines.

Like his family, Parents For Charter Schools members tend to be independent thinkers, Rose said. His job is to unite them for causes, such as proposed legislation, polls and conferences.

The latest example: Costco, the national grocery warehouse, sent a mass survey in its August magazine asking readers if charter schools were a good idea or a bad one.

“It wasn’t looking good for us,’’ Rose said of the early numbers.

The response? A blast on Facebook and Twitter to galvanize charter school parents.

The result? Seventy percent of respondents gave charter schools a thumbs up.

Next month, Parents For Charter Schools will be among the participants in the Florida Charter School Conference in Orlando. The three-day event includes sessions on principal networking, creating digital content for the classroom and charter school organization.

Rose and Parents For Charter Schools’ co-chairman, Paul Zamek, will come at the issues from a parent’s point of view.

“We really want to be a voice for parents advocating for charter schools,’’ said Zamek, a real estate developer who helped start a charter school, Somerset Academy in Coral Gables. “We want to help establish charter schools and to raise awareness about the whole movement.’’

The group will help debunk myths, too.

People often say to Zamek, father of two charter school students and  president of the Somerset Gables Parents Association, “You’re not a public school.’’

“Yes we are,’’ he tells them.

And, yes, charter school students have to take the FCAT.

Zamek and Rose are among the speakers at the conference, which starts Nov. 14. Their presentation on how parents can become more involved in the charter school movement is Friday at 9:45 a.m.

In addition, redefinED’s founding editor, Adam Emerson, will moderate a discussion, “Working Together for the Future of Charter Schools,” during the conferences’ closing session on Friday. Adam is now director of the Program on Parental Choice for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. Known as the institute’s school choice czar, Adam also writes a blog, Choice Words.

Check the conference schedule for more information.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.

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