Tribune Editorial: A charter school example

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Special Education teacher Lauren Haslam and Oliver Thelin, 11, excitedly watch the ribbon cutting at Spectrum Academy STARS or Spectrum Transition and Academic Resource School during its open house November 8, 2017, to celebrate its inaugural school year. With one in every 47 Utah children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Spectrum Academy charter school provides a customized education approach, specializing in giving students with autism tools for life. The unique, sought-after charter school understands the challenges and amazing potential of students on the autism spectrum and delivers a secure and comfortable environment, individualized to each childÕs educational need.

Public education in Utah struggles, for money, top teachers and innovative programs. The Legislature created the charter school system as an experiment meant to foster innovation in administration and curriculum in order to cut costs while improving education.

The experiment fails where a charter school is not especially innovative and needlessly siphons off limited resources from their public counterparts.

But sometimes charter schools are uniquely positioned to serve specific micro-communities by catering to individualized needs with atypical methods. The Spectrum Academy is one of these schools.

The Spectrum Academy is a charter school in North Salt Lake for children with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. The school’s wait list has 800 students on it, and those who attend very literally won the lottery.

With a campus in Pleasant Grove as well as North Salt Lake, the charter school serves about 1,100 students from preschool to age 22. Last week, the community celebrated the groundbreaking of a new, additional building in North Salt Lake as well as a new campus on Redwood Road.

Tribune reporter Kelly Schmidt reported, “The new high school will house a CREATE Center, which stands for Career Readiness, Educational Advancement, Training and Employment. The center will provide training and classes to help students prepare for higher education or vocations, with help from several community partners who work with Spectrum students.”

Spectrum also celebrated a new campus that focuses on its Spectrum Transition and Academic Resource School, or STARS for short. The STARS program helps children develop communication and life skills – not your typical math, English and science curriculum.

There is no way that a traditional public school could provide these types of daily services and supports in a consistent manner. The special education system is wrought with burdensome paperwork, confusing team meetings and complicated acronyms that intimidate parents and prop up sub-par programming. Often children with disabilities are left in classrooms with other children with disabilities and one teacher who can’t possibly meet their needs. Individualized aide assignments are expensive, and it is difficult to hire experienced professionals who stay for extended periods of time.

The Spectrum Academy is a perfect example of the need and successful implementation of Utah’s charter school programming. Parents are eternally grateful for the individualized attention students receive and the built-in support community.

We hope Spectrum continues to grow and expand to serve this special community.