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Bring it on

School Competition: FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson Says 'Bring it On'

Ft. Wayne Community Schools (Ind.) Superintendent Wendy Robinson is confident her schools can compete with anyone, anywhere—though, she says, it would help if the playing field were level.

Indiana’s current school voucher system—one of the country’s largest—puts public schools at a disadvantage, Robinson says in a recent video interview released by Education Week and the PBS NewsHour:

“You have established a totally separate school system on the back of the structure that was intended for public schools. If they [schools receiving vouchers] took every student, if they were responsible for special ed, if they took ELL, if they were not allowed to pick and choose which kids they took, bring it on.”

Check out the full video here:

While Robinson’s confidence in her district is refreshing, her criticism of school choice programs is echoed by many public school advocates.

Education Secretary Betsy Devos has signaled that the Trump administration intends to expand school choice and voucher programs. Though it’s unclear whether alternative schools will be subject to the same requirements as public schools.

Understanding vouchers

There are many reasons why parents might choose school voucher programs: access to religious studies and alternative learning environments for starters. Another is the promise of improved student performance.

But, according to the Education Week/NewsHour report, national test scores show little or no improvement when comparing students on private vouchers with traditional public school students.

That hasn’t stopped parents from considering other educational options for their children. Further, it hasn’t stopped charters and alternative schools from proactively wooing students and families away from public schools.

Robinson says public school leaders need to wake up—and start doing some wooing of their own, or risk losing out.

“I’m worried more people aren’t alarmed,” she says in the video. “Public education is the backbone of this country.”

Change your attitude

Robinson is obviously confident in her school district—despite concerns about the voucher system.

All things being equal, she’s convinced FWCS remains a top-flight option for students and families.

Part of that confidence stems from her approach. For years, Robinson has placed a premium on listening to and engaging students and parents, obsessively seeking feedback to make improvements, and staying ahead of the competition. For her, it comes down to providing a better service, both inside and outside the classroom.

“We have to understand that we do have customers,” Robinson told us last year. “We’re not a monopoly just because we are the public school system. We have to treat our customers the way customers want to be treated anywhere in the world.”

For more on the myths public school leaders too often believe, read Do you treat parents and students like valued customers? You should.

Are your schools facing competition from school choice? What steps are you taking to keep students and families from choosing out?  Tell us in the comments.