( 0 Votes )

Percentage of Fluvanna school-aged children not in public school lower than national average

One School Board candidate intimated students are leaving Fluvanna County Public Schools (FCPS) in droves.

Is that true?

Like most things, there are no simple answers.  Multiple factors go into a parent’s choice to homeschool or send a child to private school.

Six Fluvanna families agreed to tell their stories of why they don’t send their children to public schools. While each story is unique, most had two things in common: a dissatisfaction with their public school experience and a desire for more control over what their child learned and how it was taught.

Here are some facts:

FCPS are one of only 22 Virginia districts fully accredited four years in a row.

The FCPS on-time, overall graduation rate in 2017 was 97.4 percent, placing it fourth out of 132 districts. FCPS students categorized as disadvantaged graduated at 98.7 percent; black students graduated at 100 percent.
There are 169 Fluvanna school-aged students going to five private schools in Fluvanna: Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA), Effort Christian School, Open Door Christian School, The Light Academy and Saint Nicholas Learning Center.

There are 228 students who are homeschooled and 55 who have a religious exemption from attending public school.

All told, there are 452 school-aged children in Fluvanna who are either homeschooled or attend a private school in Fluvanna.

Nationally in 2016, 10 percent of school-aged children attended private schools and 3.4 percent were homeschooled – totaling 13.4 percent of children who don’t attend public schools. That’s according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Fluvanna has 4,756 children of school age, according to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

That means less than 10 percent of Fluvanna’s school-age children are homeschooled or attend private school – a figure below the national average.

When Rivanna District School Board candidate Tyler Pieron told Republicans at a September fundraiser that FCPS “lost 400 students who chose to go elsewhere rather than go to Fluvanna schools,” he was very close to the actual number. The implication of his statement – that students started at FCPS and left to pursue education elsewhere – is less easily proven.

Those statistics aren’t as readily available, said Brenda Gilliam, executive director in charge of curriculum, instruction and finance.

Personal stories
The Fluvanna Review put out the word asking parents who homeschooled their children or sent them to private schools why they did so. While this is not a scientific study, six families responded.

All but one, David Nesbitt, currently have school-aged children. Nesbitt’s children graduated in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

All six families started their children in the public schools.

Two of Nesbitt’s four children went to FCPS until their junior year. Nesbitt decided to take his son out after he got into a fight at school.

Nesbitt said his son, Jason, was attacked by another student and fought back – an account corroborated by a teacher witness. He was suspended because of a zero-tolerance policy, Nesbitt said.

“Jason told me about several pushing [and] shoving incidents that occurred earlier in the year. I took this as a warning for potential future difficulties. Jason also lacked interest in his studies,” Nesbitt wrote in an email.

He enrolled Jason in an online course of study through the American School in Chicago.

“Using their faculty, textbooks and academic program, I became directly involved in his education,” Nesbitt said. “He raised his academic level from ‘average’(C) to ‘above average’ (B or B+). Jason graduated 18 months later with a high school diploma.”

He is now a senior level technical manager at Amazon, Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt’s daughter wanted to graduate early so she homeschooled using the same courses, graduated six months ahead of her public school class and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Hawaii.

Margaret Estes has five children ages 10, 13, 15, 17 and 18.

Estes homeschooled all her children until they became of high school age. She let them decide where they wanted to go to high school. Three chose Fluvanna County High School and one chose FUMA.
“The main reason [I homeschooled them] was because I felt that I could provide them better individualized attention, a customized education in the Christian classical model plus more time to just enjoy childhood,” Estes wrote in an email. “We don’t waste precious time with trivial activities!”

She believes homeschooling worked for her family.

“My kids’ teachers have had such positive things to say about them coming from a homeschool background into the public school setting,” Estes said. “They don’t have that public school ‘bad attitude.’ They respect authority. They know how to work diligently and independently. They have excelled in their work given a very solid background in math and writing where they didn’t fall through the cracks. My oldest daughter is a freshman at William and Mary. Their success speaks for itself.”

Doug Shiner has one child, 13, who attends The Light Academy. He wanted his child to get a Christian-based education in a Christian-based school, he wrote in an email.
The only drawback he sees to sending his child to a small, private, Christian school is the “lack of elective classes and [the] absence of sports teams.”
Kevin and Ashley Wright have two children, Isaac, 11, and Ava, 9.

Both children were at Carysbrook Elementary when the Wrights decided to send them to The Light Academy because they were dissatisfied with the instruction and social issues at the public school, the Wrights said in an email.
“Isaac was struggling with bullying [and] making friends,” they wrote. “He was getting picked on continuously and we at home watched his mood shift into a place of anxiety and depression. He didn’t want to go to school at all.”

Their daughter was diagnosed with a learning difference and the Wrights felt she “needed different approaches for teaching reading skills that were not provided. Discussions with the teaching staff were similar to talking to a politician: lots of good ideas and words but void of action.”

Now both of their children are thriving, they said. Isaac looks forward to going to school and Ava’s improvement is “shocking.”
The Wrights said they felt there was too much emphasis on testing in the public school. They see a “noticeable difference in the quality of the material” they’re being taught at The Light Academy. They appreciate the focus on God.

They like “the foundation being taught in this school, where public schools are moving in the direction of transgender bathrooms – such a twisted portrayal of right and wrong,” they said. “The lack of morals and control in public schools is a big deal.”

The only drawback the Wrights see to a private education is the cost and having to provide transportation, which is “very small versus the intangible values of where they are now.”
Stacie Jakubec Fraser has two sons:  Corey, 15, and Justin, 12. Both went to FCPS – Corey from kindergarten through seventh grade and Justin from kindergarten through sixth grade.
Their mom didn’t want them going to eighth grade at the high school. They both are at FUMA.

“When Corey was in seventh grade at Fluvanna Middle School, I counted the tests and quizzes he had from August until the end of March for just one class – pre-algebra,” she wrote in an email. “Sixty-four. He had 64 tests and quizzes. Those included MAPS [Measures of Academic Progress tests], benchmarks and other unnecessary tests that our School Board mandated even though the state didn’t require them. It was too much.”
Jakubec Fraser said she went to School Board meetings and attended then-Superintendent Gena Keller’s monthly parent meetings.

“I felt like I did everything in my power as a parent to get them to stop the unnecessary testing for kids who were doing well in their classes. They seemed to not have a plan to decrease them, so we left,” she said.
She said at first the transition was hard because her sons missed friends with whom they had grown up, but they’ve made new friends and seem to be thriving.
Jakubec Fraser doesn’t regret the time her sons went to public schools. “I think it’s important to say that we loved FCPS while the boys attended,” she said. “We had amazing teachers and support staff but the state- and county-mandated testing was out of control.”

Ginger Marks has three sons ages 10, 18 and 19.

She moved her family to Fluvanna in 2012 and her two oldest went to Fluvanna County High School for two years before transferring to FUMA. Her 10 year old attended public school until going to The Light Academy this year.
Marks said she moved here after a divorce and admitted life was difficult the first few years. But trouble at school didn’t help matters. Her youngest did well initially at Central Elementary, but when they moved again to outside Lake Monticello, he was on another bus route.

“The kids on his new bus were so vulgar and the bus driver did not seem to care,” she said in an email. ”I just started to feel uneasy about him going – maybe mother’s intuition. He never seemed to know what was going on either with school work.”

Things never seemed to go well for her two oldest at the high school.

“My middle child would just tell me all sorts of stuff that went on at the schools and no one ever did anything about it,” Marks wrote. “I did not want them getting in with a bad crowd, which is what was starting to happen.”
After two years at the high school, her middle son switched to FUMA. He is now in college at Old Dominion University.

Marks’ oldest son was getting into trouble, so she sent him to FUMA for his junior year. That didn’t seem to help, so he returned to the high school. He continued to have trouble, but he graduated and is now attending Piedmont Virginia Community College.

“[The] bottom line (I think for most) is you get a better sense of comfort having your child at a private school or even homeschooling,” she said. “It’s a safer environment for your child and better learning experience as well for them to thrive and increase their education.”

Don Stribling is the executive director of student services, operations and human resources for Fluvanna County Public Schools (FCPS). Stribling said students who do not attend public schools have an effect on such things as class size, teacher to student ratio, funding and possibly regional and conference classifications based on total population numbers of the school division.
Even when a parent homeschools a child, public schools still have a responsibility.

“Our initial communication with families is when they send in their notice of intent to homeschool,” Stribling said. “We continue to be a resource throughout the school year to answer questions and provide support when needed including testing dates and reviewing end-of-year student achievement requirements.”

And though FCPS have no mandated responsibility toward students in the county who attend private school, there is an informal one, Stribling said.
“It’s not about where they go to school. It’s about the student,” he said. “If a student leaves here to go to a private school, I don’t stop caring about them. Often I’ll get a call from a parent who now sends their child to a private school, asking for advice. I don’t hesitate to help them.”

Brenda Gilliam, FCPS executive director of in charge of curriculum, instruction and finance, said the charge to public schools is different than private schools.
“Public schools have to serve all students and follow all regulations under intellectual disability laws providing for students with special needs,” Gilliam said. “We don’t have the option to say ‘You can’t come here.’”

Public schools also have to follow laws on testing and record keeping, she said.

That means all students in Virginia public schools have to take the Standards of Learning exams and track students’ progress. Funding, in part, is tied to those scores.