Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Harlem Parent takes a stand against a greater parent role in governance, against smaller classes and against CDECs.

Here is a new development. A charter school parent from the Moskowitz organization takes a stand against a greater parent role in governance, against smaller classes and against CDECs.


By Natasha Shannon

Saturday, March 7th 2009, 7:23 PM
Natasha Shannon with her daughters Alaisia (l.) and Ananda. Watts/News

Natasha Shannon with her daughters Alaisia (l.) and Ananda.

When I grew up in Harlem, my mother didn't know she had a choice in where to send me to school. She thought her only option was to enroll me in a failing District 5 school and hope I turned out all right.

I guess things wound up okay - but not really because of the public education I received. I did well in school, even graduated first in my class at the city public school I attended. But I wasn't prepared for the world. I went to Borough of Manhattan Community College, where they told me I needed to do remedial work just to stay.

Valedictorian of my class - and not ready for community college? Something was wrong with that picture.

Now, I'm a Harlem parent, mother of two girls: Ananda and Alaisia. I have so many hopes and dreams for my girls, but most of all I want them to have a first-rate education, one much better than I got. I want them to have true opportunity. But it's hard in New York City. I work at Best Buy. I live in public housing. My simple dream for my girls is not a guarantee.

Last month, I went to a hearing on mayoral control of our public schools. There were many parents who were saying that to have better schools we need a louder "parent voice." They said the mayor has too much power. They said that we as parents need checks on his power, and that we need parents appointed or elected to more community boards so they can make policies for the system.

I'm sorry, but that's not what I want - or what I think is good for my kids. Remember, I have two girls who are 7 and 5. I don't want a vote on a panel or to have a voice in policymaking.

I want power - real power. I want the power to decide where I send my kids to school. I don't want to be seen but not really "heard."

The best way my voice can be heard is if I get to choose where my child goes to school. I should have excellent choices in my own neighborhood, the kinds of choices my mother wasn't able to take advantage of. I don't want my girls to be assigned to a failing zone school, and then be told by so-called elected parent representatives that I should be happy with it.

The parent voice I want is parent choice.

The truth is, giving parents more official political clout by letting them vote on official policy might actually do more harm than good for me and my daughters.

The parents who want to make policy are not necessarily the parents who are in the same boat that I'm in. They may want resources spent on decreasing class size - when I may think money should be spent on improving teacher quality. Or the parents on a Community Education Council may not think a public charter school should be sited in a failing zone school - when to me and my neighbors, that's a saving grace.

There are some parents who are politically well-connected in this city, who think we shouldn't have a right to choose their child's school, that I should just wait for my zoned school to get better. They have been saying that schools in District 5 were on the verge of "getting better" since I was a student. My children deserve better now, and nobody but me should decide whether a school is good enough for them.

Having more parent say in policy decisions may not be the best way to protect my children's interests. In fact, it may limit my choices.

Last Saturday, Harlem Parents United, a group of which I'm a proud member, held the Harlem Education Fair to inform moms, dads and kids about their options for choosing schools. An unprecedented 5,000 parents came.

That's because in Harlem, we now have more school choices per square mile than almost anywhere in the country. Finally, we're being heard - in the only way that really counts. Don't take that away from us.

Shannon, mother of two children who attend Harlem Success Academy Charter School, is a founding member of Harlem Parents United.

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