Given before the PDE, December 16, 2002

I wish to thank Dr. Carey and the members of the Review Committee for the opportunity to appear before you in support of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School’s application as a public cyber charter school.

Just like everyone else in this room today, I am here because of my deep concern for and commitment to the education of our children in this Commonwealth. We are here in an effort to “leave no child behind.” Not one of us would intentionally leave a child behind.  Yet, children are left behind every hour of every day of every week of the year in schools across this Commonwealth and throughout this nation.

I know of this firsthand because of my personal experiences with my own four children who are both learning disabled and highly gifted.  I also know this to be true because of my volunteer work as an advocate for children who learn differently.

In my many years as an advocate I have heard countless stories from parents – usually mothers, which have a common thread of desperation, frustration and anger resulting from their attempts to secure a free and appropriate education for their child.  Their attempts usually culminated in scholastic failure and emotional hardship for their children.

I have personal knowledge of how easily a child can “fall through the cracks” in a traditional school setting when a child needs a more intense, direct, one-on-one method of instruction in a less traditional classroom setting.

My children were fortunate in that they were properly diagnosed and that I was a relentless advocate for them. But even with my advocacy and constant vigilance and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) to protect their rights for an appropriate and free education, my children suffered terrible hardships while I attempted to secure an appropriate IEP (Independent Educational Program) for them and then attempted to have that IEP correctly implemented.

My struggle with our public school consumed my days, weeks and 20 years of my life. It was a constant and exhausting battle. For years our school district refused to properly develop and implement appropriate IEPs for my children.  I found myself in the position of having to teach the children myself after school with the help of private tutors. This was not only grueling for the children and me but also extremely expensive.  The seven or eight hours a day the children were required to spend in a traditional classroom did little else than frustrate and anger them.  At the end of each school day I would attempt to recreate and review that day’s lesson for each class so that we could then work on homework.  In other words, I was filling in the gaps for the children which had occurred during the school day and which had gone unnoticed by the teachers.

What did not go unnoticed by the classroom teachers was the obvious inability to sit still in a seat, or the inability to read a paragraph, or the inability to understand new content simply from a lecture. My children were taunted not only by peers but also by teachers.  They were punished and even isolated for work they could not complete or could not seem to copy off of a blackboard no matter how hard they tried. One of my sons was even held back one year so that “he could mature.”  Maturity, it later turned out, had nothing to do with it.  It was his inability to function in a traditional classroom setting that made his school life a living hell.

What I am here to do is to impress upon you that the story of my experiences with my own children and their education is not unique.  I have heard the same story from countless parents over the years. It seems that only the cast of characters differs.

It is my opinion that when a parent chooses to educate a child or children in a non-traditional public school setting they do this with a great deal of thought and consideration and even anguish. It is not a decision parents make on a whim. It is a decision that considers foremost what is best for the child. It takes a great deal of commitment on the part of the parent or guardian to educate a child at home. I cannot help lamenting how much better my time would have been spent as a facilitator at home with a school like The Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School rather than all those years I spent trying to secure a free and appropriate education for my children through the traditional public school setting.

As I think back on the many hardships my children and I endured while they attended school, I can say without hesitation that if The Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School had existed then, they would have been enrolled. The choice between having to medicate my hyperactive six-year-old so that he could sit still in a traditional classroom, or letting him attend class on the internet – where he could stand if he had to – and not sit at the computer and not disrupt anyone else in a classroom, would have been a very easy choice for me to make in his best interest.

Ladies and gentlemen of this review committee, I have come here today via a long and hard road. I have “paid my dues” as they say in political circles and I believe I have something valid to share with you today. I was asked to serve as a Director for the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School because of my work in education, as a community leader, as a parent, businesswoman and elected political leader.  I have gladly agreed to serve as a Director of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School because I believe it is imperative that every child be given every opportunity to learn.

I am certain that the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School will do everything in their power to distinguish this school as a highly professional, innovative and pioneering school. We are working hard to become a role model in setting standards, measuring progress and being accountable to our students and their parents.

Thank you, for your kind attention to our presentation.

Respectfully Submitted, Louisa Gaughen