Parents continue to seek school choice with help from national representative

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PROVIDENCE — In an effort to empower parents and families to choose the education they determine is best for their children, the diocesan Catholic Schools Office and local private school communities welcomed Shelby Tankersley, a representative from National School Choice Week during her recent visit to the Ocean State.

Tankersley is the communications and external relations manager for National School Choice Week (NSCW), an event held each January in an effort to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. On behalf of NSCW, Tankersley recently traveled to Rhode Island to support families in their school choice efforts.

On her visit, Tankersley met with diocesan school officials and the Rhode Island Families for School Choice Board (RIFSC), to discuss the annual School Choice Day at the state house, which she said “will be bigger and better than ever this year,” and will take place on Thursday, January 28, 2016, during National School Choice Week.

“It’s wonderful to see this grassroots group keeps growing in number and breadth as they advocate for educational opportunity in the state,” she said. “RIFSC is an important organization for families that participate in every sector of education — from public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online academies, private schools and home schools. I’m thrilled to see parents working together to celebrate and spotlight school choice in the Ocean State.”

Edward Bastia, business administrator of schools for the diocese, said that having a representative from National School Choice Week visit Rhode Island made an incredible impact upon the hard-working, dedicated parent volunteers seeking school choice.

“Shelby specifically recognized the efforts and strides made by our parent volunteers to move the agenda forward for expanded parental choice in education in our state,” said Bastia. “With her help, we will be able to broaden the base and extend an invitation for other educational entities to join us in promoting this important initiative.”

Kate Egan, co-chair for the School Choice Day event at the RI State House, said it was “energizing” to have Tankersley meet with the families and offer an encouraging perspective.

“We have been working on this initiative for several years and to have our efforts recognized by an organization such as NSCW is an affirmation that we are moving in the right direction,” said Egan. “Since they follow the work of so many different states, Shelby was able to give us suggestions based on successes that other participants have had during NSCW. She also shared things we have done that they took note of and will be working on getting other participants to do in their states. In particular they were very impressed by our lighting the RI State House in yellow this past year on School Choice Day.”

For the 2016 legislative session, Egan said she is hopeful that her group will receive a lot of support from many Rhode Island Families.

“I expect the legislators will be hearing from many constituents in support of choices in education in Rhode Island,” she said. “Every year the momentum has grown as more families learn about the change we are trying to bring about and I think 2016 is the year the legislature will not be able to deny that the people want school choice in Rhode Island.”

Last year, National School Choice Week featured more than 11,000 events across all 50 states and around the world, with participation from a variety of more than 9,600 schools.

To have someone visit Rhode Island from NSCW really energized the parents working to expand School Choice in Rhode Island, said Matt Fitzgerald, president of the Catholic School Parent Federation.

“It really helps to show the parents that they are not alone in the effort,” he explained. “The best advocate for a child is ultimately their parents and when you have parents working hard to get the best education for their children it certainly is a tremendous boost of energy to have a national group recognize the work parents are doing in Rhode Island.”

Parents and school leaders of all faiths agreed that each child deserves a quality education and every parent should have the freedom and opportunity to choose which school is best for their child. Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman, M.Ed. and current Dean of Providence Hebrew Day School/New England Academy of Torah, shared that it is imperative that school choice opportunities be expanded in the state and added that the question is not whether Rhode Island will have expanded school choice the question is when.

“If we want our children to be well educated we must offer our parents opportunities to be able to make the choice of where their children attend school,” said Rabbi Scheinerman.

Rabbi Scheinerman said he is confident that a well-crafted school choice program will raise the level of education in the state and allow parents to make choices of where to send their children to school — a choice, he said, that will not cost the public schools more money.

“If we are to prepare our children and students to compete in a globally competitive society we must invest in educating them with the requisite school and to bring their dreams and aspirations to reality,” he said. “We must bring in quality speakers and continue our quest to educate parents to be vocal about their support of school choice expansion.”