Measures of Excellence

Teachers and parents understand that test scores alone do not measure how well a school is performing.

At Imagine Schools, we believe that operating a successful school requires constant attention in five important areas that we call Measures of Excellence:

  • Parent choice and satisfaction
  • Adhering to shared values
  • Academic achievement
  • Positive character development
  • Economic sustainability

We work hard to balance accomplishments in all of these areas, because a school that emphasizes one while ignoring another will not thrive. In addition, we add a sixth Measure of Excellence, new school development, because starting and operating new schools enables us to fulfill our mission to help more parents and guardians educate their children.

Parent Choice

We believe that, given a choice, parents will seek out the best school for their children. On a daily basis, they see the academic, character, behavioral, and social growth of their children. Thus, parents are the most reliable measure of accountability and quality.

The single biggest difference between a government-operated public school and a public charter school is that parents choose whether or not to send their child to a charter school. Parents vote with their feet!

In our Spring 2011 survey, families nationwide reported 87% would recommend their Imagine school to others. How does this figure compare to you local school district?

Another measure of parent satisfaction is re-enrollment. Our schools are about 90% full, and some have significant waiting lists.

What else do parents think about Imagine Schools?

  • 85.6% reported that they are satisfied with the quality of education that their children are receiving.
  • 87.4% reported that teachers and staff know their children and focus on them as individuals
  • 90.8% reported that their children feel safe at school.
  • 89.4% reported that the schools offer them opportunities to get involved in their children’s education.
  • 89% reported that teachers and staff model and teach positive character attributes.

(Data derived from the Spring 2012 Imagine Schools Family Survey)

Shared Values

Shared values are at the heart of who we want to be. Three particular values guide our work as an organization: Integrity. Justice. Fun.

Integrity. Integrity means wholeness, or how things fit together. In the school setting, it means that we must balance the teaching and modeling of character development and academic achievement.

Integrity drives us to live the same values outside the school as we do inside. Of course, it also means living up to our commitments to students, parents, and the local community. Integrity requires freedom mixed with responsibility and accountability.

Justice. Justice means to each person what he or she deserves and to each person what is appropriate. Since each student, employee, parent, and organization with whom we interact is unique, each must receive special treatment. Justice does not mean sameness or equality, but that everyone is treated uniquely and appropriately. This value drives our approach to individualized education. There are no “standardized” students.

Fun. Imagine Schools strives to create the most fun and successful schools possible.

The fun value requires extraordinary decentralization of decision-making, which empowers teachers, staff, and students to create a joy-filled school. Imagine Schools believes that each person was born to use his mind, heart, and skills to take actions, make decisions, and be held responsible for the results. Creating an environment where all stakeholders participate in educational, economic, and administrative decisions and take responsibility for the results is key to having an effective and enjoyable school that strives to meet the needs of its unique community and student body

Academic Achievement

Measuring Success
Imagine Schools evaluates academic achievement primarily through same student learning gains, similar to the approach used by KIPP and advocated as an appropriate measure of school quality by the Obama Administration. By testing students at the start of the year, our teachers learn what students know and in what areas they need the most improvement. Testing students at year-end then shows how far each student advances during the school year.

Learning gains allow assessment of how well a school helps students learn, as contrasted with year-end proficiency tests that measure only what students know at a point in time, which may be attributable to a former school where students have fallen behind grade level.

Our Results
Students at 69 of 71 Imagine Schools campuses achieved average learning gains greater than one grade in the 2009-10 school year.

In the 2009-10 school year, two-thirds of Imagine Schools students demonstrated average reading and math learning gains of one year or more (vs. 50% students nationwide based on Stanford 10 norms).

These learning gains are particularly impressive in the context of Imagine students’ proficiency when they entered from other schools:

Beginning of year testing showed that 73% of newly enrolled Imagine students were below average and 45% were in the lowest quartile in math when they entered Imagine schools. Half the students were in the bottom 28% nationally.

Similarly, 68% of newly enrolled students were below average and 43% were in the lowest quartile in reading. Half were in the bottom 31% nationally.

These data show that more than two-thirds of students transferring into Imagine’s schools experienced learning gains much less than a full grade per year at their previous schools. Students who were falling behind in other schools have turned around their academic performance in Imagine’s schools and now are advancing far beyond their prior performance.

Reaching Higher
While proud of the academic gains attained by our students and schools, we aspire to improve learning gains further, recognizing that students who are several grade levels behind will need more accelerated growth to catch up to grade level peers. We are working to spread effective practices among our schools so our students can attain even greater academic success.

While we endorse the national push to improve math and reading test scores, Imagine Schools continues to emphasize educational balance. We integrate instruction in history, science, literature, critical thinking, writing, foreign languages, music, art, technology, and athletics.

Providing students with a balanced, rich program of study along with teaching the important foundations of reading and math is a priority in all Imagine schools.

For more information, download the 2009-2010 Academic Achievement Snapshot or the more detailed 2009-2010 Academic Performance Summary.

Character Development

Positive character development in our schools is not a nice add-on in the curriculum – it is a crucial aspect of a quality school. We believe that a school must cultivate a culture of character in order to be a successful learning community.

“Many students are doing the right thing because it is the right thing—not for a prize or to avoid punishment,” reports an Imagine Schools teacher at Marietta Charter School in Georgia. Imagine is committed to teach right from wrong, justice, and the importance of serving others as core elements of our character development programs.

First and second year schools report that much of their character efforts focus on helping students behave appropriately in school, and developing caring, trusting relationships among students and staff. Our more mature schools continue to focus on behavior and discipline, but also emphasize citizenship, service, leadership, and correlating positive character to success in school and in life.

Positive character development does not end when a child leaves elementary school. Forming a virtuous character is a central part of the educational experience for every student who attends an Imagine school. We have developed an Imagine Schools Moral Foundations high school curriculum, and we intend for every student to pass the Moral Foundations course before graduating from an Imagine high school.

Nationally, Imagine Schools is now in its sixth year in sponsoring a National Character Essay Contest. This contest aims to recognize young writers who understand the importance of living lives of character, as well as to help integrate character into the academic curriculum. In 2012, 50 Imagine campuses conducted a character essay contest – a dramatic increase from 33 participating schools in 2009. The national judges read hundreds of essays, which were submitted as school winners from among thousands of student essays written in grades 3-12 and judged at the school level. Read the winning essays and notable quotes!

In June 2010, the Character Education Partnership recognized 8 Imagine schools with “Promising Practices” awards for “implementing unique and specific strategies in character education.” The winners included Imagine Bella Academy of Excellence (Cleveland, OH), Imagine Charter School at Weston, FL, Imagine Groveport Community School (Groveport, OH), Imagine Indiana Life Sciences Academy East (Indianapolis, IN), Imagine MASTer Academy (Fort Wayne, IN), Imagine Rosefield (Surprise, AZ), Imagine Schools at South Lake (Clermont, FL), Imagine-Klepinger Community School (Dayton, OH).

Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability at Imagine Schools means balancing expenditures and revenues at each campus so that each school lives within its means. Charter schools operate based on the per student allocation provided by each jurisdiction and in no way diminish per student funding for those students who remain in government operated public schools.

On average, state and local governments give charter schools only 65% of the money spent on children who attend government-run public schools. Government-operated schools do not pay for their buildings out of their routine operating funds, but rather get separate and additional funding for buildings and capital costs. Most charter schools, however, receive NO additional or directed funds for facilities, so we must use the per student allocation (equivalent to operating funds only) received at each school to pay for everything: textbooks, teachers, administration, and buildings. Our charter schools deliver a high quality education for less money than is being spent on government-operated schools.

Careful stewardship of these limited financial resources is essential. Imagine Schools is a full-service charter school operator that contracts with each independent local charter school governing board. Each board is actively engaged in creating, discussing, and amending its individual school budget based on the per student disbursement from each locality or state. Imagine Schools people as well as the individual governing boards work hard to eliminate waste and to use funds where they most benefit teaching, learning, and school growth.