Lorena Castillo, Florida teacher who supports school choice – podcastED

Today at redefinED we’re going to smash another stereotype: not all public school teachers oppose expanded school choice.

Lorena Castillo is chairwoman of CHISPA, the Coalition of Hispanic Instructors in Support of Parental Awareness. CHISPA falls under the umbrella of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, and its 180 members – almost all of them teachers in traditional public schools – support charter schools, private school vouchers and tax credit scholarships.

Castillo sees no conflict between that support and support for public schools. The bottom line for CHISPA, she said in the redefinED podcast below, is finding the right fit for Hispanic students who are struggling. That way, they can catch up, earn diplomas, become good citizens – and not become statistics. “We have great public schools, and dedicated public school teachers,” said Castillo, who teaches middle school science in Dade County, Fla. “But for some students with special needs, they need other options in order to graduate.”

Castillo can relate. She was a teacher and principal in her native Nicaragua but moved to the U.S. 25 years ago. Before becoming certified to teach here, she worked a full-time job, a part-time job and attended night school to learn English – all at the same time.

“We were out of our environment. Different language. Different culture. So we had to struggle a lot to adapt,” she said of herself and her family. “When I see any Hispanic student in my classroom struggling, the same way I did and my kids did, I completely understand and I can make a complete connection.”

As far as we know, there are no other organized groups of public school teachers who openly support expanded school choice options. Coincidentally, “chispa” is Spanish for “spark.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.

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