"Within school choice, there's a lot of effort that goes into kinda competing against each other," Alona Hastings, principal at McKinley-Thatcher Elementary School in Denver, said.
McKinley-Thatcher is a small neighborhood school along South Logan Street. Hastings says school choice has forced neighborhood schools to become better.
"My dream, my goal is that every neighborhood school, especially this one, be a viable option," Hastings said.
She says neighborhood schools offer something that other schools cannot - a geographically centered community.
"Schools really are about that feel that you have when you walk in the door," Hastings said. "You're going to feel something when you find the right school for you."
Hastings tries to create a complete learning experience for kids when they walk in the door.
"Each grade has one classroom," Emilie McGonigal, a kindergarten teacher, said. "Everybody has an identity at a small school like this."
At McKinley-Thatcher, teachers in every grade work hand-in-hand to make sure kids receive all the help they need from kindergarten through fifth grade.
"I know what they got in kindergarten and first and second," said Kerri Van Eps, a third-grade teacher, said. "The foundations that they're creating in kindergarten and first really support them and sets them up for success and later."
Van Eps says being part of the community helps build lasting relationships with families.
"Just feels like home to me and family, and you know we're able to know all of the kids," Van Eps said. "I know their brothers and sisters, younger and older."
During the day, Van Eps has her third graders help second graders learn to read more efficiently. McGonigal says that's part of being a neighborhood school.
"Really in this neighborhood, these kids come together and they help each other learn," McGonigal said. "It teaches them to care of their community. It teaches them to care for one another."
Hastings says she wants her neighborhood school to be the center of the community even after school hours.
"This is a community park. This is taxpayer dollars. This is their place to come and play," Hastings said. "So, when we have family game night, we're packed."
Even though, the process of school choice automatically causes parents to consider other options besides their neighborhood school, neighborhood schools are still the preferred choice for parents.
"Vast majority, they go to the neighborhood school," Hastings said. "It brings back a connected-ness that I think we sometimes lose in our society because we do so many things in a disconnected way."
Lori Kindell has three children at McKinley-Thatcher. She says location is still king.
"I think as a parent in the community, it's important to communicate that to people that the only way we can make any neighborhood school great is to have the neighborhood actually investing in it," Kindell said.
All this week, 9NEWS will profile different types of schools for 9NEWS School Choice Week. Parents have only a few more weeks to make preliminary choices for school for their kids for next year.
If you want to find a good school near you, check out our partners at ColoradoSchoolGrades.com. This is a free website that assigns a letter grade to every school in Colorado, based on academic performance.
Thursday, 9News will profile a language immersion school.
Van Eps says parents should not overlook the school right down the street.
"Neighborhood is not old or boring, for me, it's amazing," Van Eps said. "It's something you can't create at a bigger school."
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)