This website gets more hits from people looking for information and opinions about vouchers in schools than another website I run, even if I publish a great article about school choice over on that site. That's because this is a niche website, and it has a lot of closely-related articles. There are some positives for websites to focus on a niche, including easier indexing by search engines, a more focused user experience, and money. The money comes from the fact that niche websites (those that get more hits than this one) can make money from ads on the site, and those ads can be very targeted. Niche schools (charter, magnet, specialty, etc.), are similar to niche websites, and there are some positives.

A niche school can have a specific focus. The parents chose the school based on a certain philosophy, and a STEM school isn't going to feel pressure to offer ten foreign languages. That's why new schools should be more focused than "college prep," since true college prep would focus on a very broad liberal arts education. If your focus is on teaching the writing of code, and you've partnered with local businesses, and students are learning the actual process, then you can probably skip the expenses of a bunch of new science labs. With limited resources, a school that can focus will be able to come out ahead in the niche.

The niche needs to be valuable to parents and students. When I search on the internet for a video about changing my car's alternator, I'm looking for a very specific video or tutorial that deals with my car. A video about what an alternator does or how to change one on a Yugo won't help me. It's the same thing with niches. If your niche is fairly useless to students or parents, then you're not going to get the best results in searches and desire to attend the school. Back in my hometown, Boys Tech eventually became Tech, eventually became a neighborhood school, eventually needed to get students to pass all tests, and eventually only offered a true industrial arts education to those who sought it out. The whole idea of graduating high school with a real skill got watered down by the need to pass all the required tests and serve a larger population of students. A niche school needs to have the ability to be exclusive rather than all-inclusive. If your kid has no interest in the arts but wants to attend a school that focuses on the arts because it's highly-rated, then it's not a good match, but that's what happens in a large school district trying to find seats for kids.

Location absolutely matters for charter schools or private schools that might have a niche. While it might be hopeful to create a "college prep" school in an area with lower income, it might make more sense for that school to teach skills that make a student employable without a college degree. An environmental school might not be a hit in a very conservative area of town. Since busing for charter schools generally doesn't exist, it's best to match the niche to the location. In some cases, you might have to alter your focus a bit because of the clientele. For example, there are some Lutheran schools in locations that don't have very many Lutherans. These schools might focus on being "Christ-centered" or "loving" rather than specifically Lutheran.

Proof of concept will help parents to decide on your school. You need to have an outward-facing website that demonstrates your achievements as a school. Not an app or a login area for students and parents. The website should show results. Obviously, if your test scores don't outperform local public schools, then leave them off the site, but you can absolutely show how the students are affected by being part of the niche you've chosen. If you are a STEM school, then photos of students in science labs is a must. If you have a religious school, articles about the latest chapel service would be useful. You don't need to demonstrate that students are getting an hour of code at your French Immersion school if you don't have articles and photos of kids learning in French. Just like I don't write articles about my favorite recipes on this website, you don't want to muddy the message of your school.

Adjusting to market trends can be useful to your school niche. Sure, STEM is all the rage right now, but if employers start discovering that kids who are fluent in STEM tend to have lower creativity quotients, then make your school a CreativeSTEM school. Your English and arts teachers can help with the transformation. Also, I don't know if that's a thing. The point is that no one is telling your charter school that it can't ever adapt. Probably even Montessori or Waldorf schools can adjust to trends. And if they don't (and you do), then good news for you.

Charter schools, magnet schools, and private schools all have a place in our country right now, but it's about more than just fighting for vouchers or tax money. If your school can continue to prove that the investment is working, then the system will adapt to you, and people will want to keep investing. Parents will demand opportunities to send their kids to your schools. Taxpayers and politicians will see the benefits. Even the teachers might want to leave their bureaucratic public school jobs for a chance to teach in new and exciting ways.

Jacksonville News

New Jax Witty

Articles, reviews, advice, and legitimate research to go along with some back-handed comments. Think of us as Jacksonville's mother-in-law.
  • Duval or DuVal or du Val?
    I was just on an insurance website that listed DuVal as the county we're in. Some people go by DuWhatever, while others use DuSomething. Still others are du Frenchplace. So, I wonder what the deal is with Duval.

    Duval County is named after William Pope Duval, who was the first governor of Florida. He was an appointed governor, so it's not like the people of the state voted for him, but he did rule over Florida for twelve years. Duval himself went by Duval, as can be seen in his signature:

    Of course, Duval, regardless of how William spelled it, would have been du Val at one point. Just like duPont (as in Jessie Ball duPont), used to be du Pont, though I am sure some people around Duval County call it Dupont.

    One additional tidbit about William Duval's name is that he had three sons, with two of them going by Duval and one going by DuVal. Burr and John were Duval, and Duval County, Texas is named after Burr. Thomas, the obvious attention-seeking middle child, went by DuVal.

    To recap, the person specifically for whom Duval County was named was named Duval, not du Val, duVal, or DuVal. So, unlike St. Johns, which people from Florida changed because...lazy, Duval County is spelled correctly. With ONE u, not three.
  • Recyclable Plastic Bags as Beds
    Plastic bags CAN be recycled, probably even in Georgia. That's where a Girl Scout troop decided to save recyclable plastic bags from the landfill in order to build homeless beds. I'm wondering whether it's a good activity or not. I want it to be, really, but I have my reservations. My wife says it's me being cynical, but I just like to make sure the feel-good stories really make me feel good.

    First off, it seems like a good idea. Reuse or upcycle. Since you can recycle these bags, making beds out of them may not really be the best use, but if the bags were going to be thrown away, then it's cool. I just wonder what happens when the bed has served its purpose as a bed. I would think it could be hosed down and used indefinitely, but I'm not sure. But if the woven bags can still be recycled, then that's pretty sweet. 

    Plastics also leach chemicals. 95% of plastics will leach these chemicals when real-world stresses of sunlight or washing are added to the mix. The chemicals tend to be estrogen-like, so I don't really know if they're going to harm any homeless people, but it is something to consider. I don't know the specifics of which chemicals leach from plastic bags, and some are worse than others. Basically, beds made of plastic would likely be banned for normal human purchase, either as mattresses for homes or as camping beds. Surrounding yourself in a chemical bath while sleeping is probably not a great idea for most of us, but I can still see the allure of not wanting to sleep on the ground.

    In the end, I can't say using plastic bags as beds for the homeless is a bad idea, mostly because I can't think of a better material to be upcycled in this way. I guess you could fill the bags with Spanish Moss (which used to be used in mattresses), and they'd be softer yet much more flammable. 
    Actually, filling the bags with anything, like newspaper, might add to comfort or insulation, but the beds would probably less portable.  Besides, I am sure all of this is really about the thought counting more than the actual item being donated. And the work involved. Girl Scoutstrying to do good.