Passionate about Public Education
When parents send their children to school for the first time they hope to put them in the hands of school administrators who are passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated to bringing their children the best education and experience possible. Upon meeting Alison Thomas, it is obvious that she is the model of this type of administrator.
Alison is President of the Board of Directors for Riverview Charter School, Beaufort County's only public charter school, currently in its second school year. It was easy to hear the passion in her voice and see her eyes light up when she spoke of her dreams and future goals for the infant school.
The difference between a charter school and a public school, Alison described, is that charter schools are public schools of choice. All of the personnel and children are there because they want to be, and although they are still highly accountable to state educational standards in some senses, in others they are much more flexible to create their own goals and education plans. According to Alison, this allows them to be dedicated to the areas of education they think are most beneficial to children, including small class sizes and experiential learning.
The school currently houses kindergarten through sixth grade and has plans of expanding to include seventh and eighth. "Our vision and mission is to keep classes small because we believe children learn better in smaller settings. People constantly ask us if we are planning on expanding to include high school, but for the time, we are dedicated to the school we have, and we want to assure we don't split our focus."
Another dedication is in creating an environment for experiential learning, including school-wide service learning opportunities and individual class projects. "Before we opened the school we created focus groups where we asked people about their best memories from school. Many common themes surfaced such as 'those weekly field trips to the beach with that Marine Biology class' or 'that favorite teacher'. Our goal here is to have 'that favorite teacher' and 'those favorite trips' in every class."
When speaking with Alison about her dedication to education, one would never guess that less than two years ago she was merely a concerned mother, with no background in education, sitting in on a focus group. From the focus groups, a board of nine individuals was created, and from there Alison was elected President of the Board. In addition, she was elected to the Board of Directors for South Carolina Charter Schools at the state level this past March. "For me it was an easy transition because of my passion for public education. At the time I didn't know much about it, but it was easy to get passionate about it."
Although her passion made the transition fairly easy, Alison has still faced some challenges along the way. One challenge has been the learning curve that seems never ending. "I don't think there will ever be a point when I feel like I am on top of the heap. I am constantly learning, growing, and stretching myself further than I thought I could go." Another challenge is balancing time with her own family with the time she spends on the families she represents in the school. "I feel like I have an advantage because I have an eight-year-old daughter in the school and a five-year-old son who will be there next year. There's not a conversation that goes on in the board room that doesn't go on around my kitchen table," Alison said.
It is no surprise that Alison has some spectacular goals for the future of the school, and with her dedication and spunk there is no doubt that the future looks bright. "My overall goal is to make the school into a sustainable model of a best-practice charter school, and I am also committed to propelling charter schools forward state-wide. I plan on researching successful schools nationally so we can learn from their examples," Alison said. "The first day of school is like giving birth. When you are pregnant you count down the days until the baby comes, but then it comes and it's only the beginning. The school is still in its infancy, and I can't wait to see it grow."
Family: Husband, Jeff; Children, Avery (8) and Alex (5); 14-year-old Husky, Maggie
Hometown: Augusta, GA. Moved to Beaufort six years ago to raise her family
Background: Received BA in Architecture from Georgia Tech
Hobbies: Sewing, arts and crafts, reading, bike riding, walking Maggie, and being a mom
Motto in Business: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead