The Barney Charter School Initiative has increased two-fold after opening four new charter schools this summer.
Since 2009, the initiative has spread liberal arts education throughout the country. This initiative seeks to institute a classical curriculum in schools that wish to associate with the college in the renewal of education throughout America.
Phillip Kilgore, the director of the initiative, said that the college works with communities, parents, educators, and local school districts who are dissatisfied with the downward trend of progressive education.
“It is really driven by a response to people who are like minded and who share our educational philosophy,” Kilgore said.
Eight new charter schools have opened their doors since 2012. This past August four new schools opened, located in Georgia, Florida, Nevada, and Texas. The growth projection rate is five schools per year, with the hope of having 50 charter schools open by 2022.
Kilgore said that because the word is out, he receives weekly enquiries about the initiative, even from states that do not have charter school laws. These charter schools, which are publically funded yet independently operated, reflect the learning and rigour of the liberal arts education that is taught at the college. These schools have tremendous curricular freedom, Kilgore said, because they are allowed to depart from the state’s dictates for regular public schools.
“Hillsdale provides the curricular design,” he said. “Our role is to be the architect of the academic program, and the curriculum is a significant piece in that.”
Hillsdale hosted a teacher training session in June, which 100 teachers from four charter schools attended, and over 30 faculty members from the college delivered sessions.
Kilgore emphasized the importance of content; teachers have to be knowledgeable in order to fully teach a liberal arts education.
“I had Dr. Grant teaching about Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, because there’s a government class. I had Dr. Smith talking about “Henry V” because that book is taught in the eighth grade. I had Dr. Birzer talking about American Indians because first grade teachers teach that,” Kilgore said. “That’s some top-grade teacher training.”
Kilgore also added that every American should be concerned with education because of its connection with the health of the republic.
“Education is something that touches every family. There is no one who doesn’t have a dog in the fight in some way,” he said.
Kilgore said that, besides the fact that students throughout America are educated, he hopes that the initiative will have a leavening effect in public education.
“We are showing that education in the public school domain can be done in the right manner, and we want parents and policy makers to see that,” he said. “Public schooling needs to be restored to what it once was, and these schools serve as the example that it can be done.”
The eight schools, which have a total of 4,000 students enrolled, are also a haven for Hillsdale College alumni. According to Assistant Director Rebecca Fleming, there are a total of 30 alumni working at the schools, who have graduated anywhere from 2006 – 2014.
Emily Flynn, ’14 currently teaches at the Atlanta Classical Academy (ACA) in Georgia. With a degree in history and a minor in art history, Flynn oversees a fifth-grade class of 27 students.
Flynn heard about the ACA at the Classical Schools Job Fair that the college hosts every February.
“It has been exciting and challenging to be a part of this, especially as a new teacher,” Flynn said. “I have the opportunity to help form a school, and thus its students, in an environment which promotes virtue and academic rigor. It feels very Hillsdale-ian.”
Flynn added that Dr. Terrence Moore, previous professor of history at Hillsdale, is the principal at the ACA and is very involved in the initiative. She said that she is encouraged by the support she has received from both the community at ACA and members and faculty back at Hillsdale.
Flynn echoes Kilgore’s aspirations for the initiative and for the renewal of education throughout the country. The Barney Charter School Initiative is vital not only as a means for the learning of the liberal arts, but also as an education for leading a virtuous life.
“If we only emphasize academics, we are forgetting that we are developing human beings, not just brains,” Flynn said. “Developing character is an essential component of ACA and other Barney charter schools, and it is this emphasis on virtue that will allow the students of these schools to excel academically and morally in our world, for they will be able to interpret and seek out the good, the true, and the beautiful.”