charter schools, public schools, Cedar Hill, DISD, magnet schoolBy Robbie Owens

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CEDAR HILL (CBS11) – Across North Texas, public schools are staging exhibits and showcases to lure back students who now have tuition free options outside of their local schools.

“I was shocked,” said Pam Porter of the options uncovered at her local schools in Cedar Hill.

After stints in both private and charter schools, Porter did some research and says she found the perfect fit for her two children close to home.

“I had an impression that it was scary. In fact, I was pretty scared about making that decision… but, we have found nothing but great things,” said Porter.

With millions in state funding on the line, the charter school option has ushered in a new era of competition for students. Offering innovative and excellent programs is just a start. Now, districts must work to make the community aware of those options within the district.

“I was a little skeptical at first,” said Porter, who has 4th and 6th grade students in the district. “But, was excited when I heard all the different things that they had to offer.”

Cedar Hill school leaders said overall public schools outperform charters—but, public school educators have been so focused on educating kids that they have missed the need to market.

“There’s a perception that what we do isn’t good,” said Cedar Hill Superintendent Orlando Riddick. “We’ve done a good job of doing the work..we haven’t been intentional in telling the story.”

So districts are working hard to highlight those public school success stories, even while fighting the stigma of negativity that often surrounds urban schools.

Sara and Thiago Franca are brand new parents, but their Dallas neighbors are already warning them away from the neighborhood school for tiny Liam.

“No, no, DISD,” said Thiago. “As far as I know, it has a bad rep.” According to Sara, “they [ neighbors ] won’t put their children in Dallas ISD.”

That’s in spite of the fact that DISD’s Townview Magnet is routinely recognized as being the best public high school in the nation. It sits just miles from the Franca’s home. Clearly, the district has a perception problem.

“Absolutely,” agreed Stephanie Elizalde, the district’s Chief of School Leadership, “and we’re working to fix that every single day.”

Enrollment in DISD has fallen for the second year in a row and that translates into millions in lost state funding. School leaders admit that they are feeling the pressure from nearby charters.

“It’s absolutely brought to the forefront that part of our job is to market, not just to offer a good product, but to make sure that we’re communicating what that product is,” said Elizalde.

Because parents are looking for solid options.

“There’s some fine people doing fine work,” said Jennifer Fitzgerald whose son is in 3rd grade in a Fort Worth public school. “There’s real benefits to coming out of a public school education—because it’s real world. You’re not stuck in a little bubble.”

The “Discover Dallas ISD” Fair to introduce parents to academic options is on Saturday, December 3.

Elementary schools will be featured at Ellis Davis Field House, 9191 Polk St. in Dallas. Secondary schools will exhibit at STEAM Middle School at D.A. Hulcy, 9339 S. Polk.

Due to the anticipated crowds, families with last names beginning with A-L are asked to visit the academic fair between 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Families with last names beginning with M-Z should visit between 12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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