Blog entry by Gina Sardi, who is applying to start a charter school in D7 in the Bronx; a fairly accurate portrayal of community views! (Thanks to Leonie Haimson.)
Charter schools are in the news every day, and yesterday was an important day. Legislation was passed lifting the cap on charter schools in New York State. Considering the state was very close to reaching its limit, this is a significant development for those of us interested in opening a charter school. It’s interesting to hear first hand what people in the community think of charter schools. Parents welcome new schools – they want alternatives to the over-crowded, failing schools. But there is another side to this discussion.
I recently attended a meeting of the education committee for a Community Board in the Bronx, an area where I might be located. What was intended to be a short presentation about my school proposal, with an explanation of Montessori, and they type of school I envision. The purpose of these meetings (I’ve attended a couple of others) is to get the support of community leaders. I had been allotted 10 minutes on the agenda; we ended out talking for almost 2hours! It was VERY interesting to hear the reasons many people in the public schools are against charter schools, and to hear the problems they are dealing with. They have been holding hearings for weeks about charter schools, and will continue them. One of the people there was the Vice president of CEC 12. She turned to me when I started talking and said -”Before you start, I want you to know that I am categorically opposed to charter schools!” It ended out being a really good conversation, and we are going to continue it. In fact, there are a couple of meetings where they would like to have me and hopefully other charter school representatives to answer the questions/issues they have with charter schools.
These are some of the basic problems and issues they brought up:
- They DO NOT want charter schools in their DOE buildings.
- They are angry about what they perceive as unfair selection of students to attend charter schools. They know all about lotteries, but said they know for a fact that the laws and procedures are not followed at many charter schools, and that poor performing students are “counseled out.”
- They don’t believe charter schools have the same oversight as public schools, and don’t trust the reporting of scores and other charter school accountability.
- They really dislike Eva Moskowitz, and say that she is really disliked in the Bronx, and has given charters a bad name.
- They question whether charter schools are fair with children with IEPs and ELLs. There is a Huge problem with non-English speakers in the schools, and the schools are not equipped with teachers who know how to deal with ELLs.
- Their schools are terribly overcrowded, and kids are being moved into tiny rooms and overcrowded classrooms to make room for charter schools that are being forced upon them.
- Principals are losing their jobs because of poor scores, and being replaced with inexperienced educators who are given 18-month crash courses in administration.
- They resent the funds being spent on charter schools, and the fact that charter schools can raise their own funds.
- And a whole lot more!
I love a heated discussion, and let me tell you, this got heated (fortunately it was a small group – only 4 of them and one of my Board members from SoBRO and me). But they challenged me to stay in touch, to visit their schools, get to know the principals and the parents, and to attend their forums on charter schools. I promised I would, and told them I would bring other people representing charter schools to listen to and respond to their concerns.
With the news yesterday about the cap on charters being lifted, I am sure the debate will heat up. They have included some limits in the new laws on the procedures for putting charter schools in DoE buildings, but the truth is the problems public schools face are huge. With the impending budget cuts, hiring freezes, and huge teacher lay-offs, it is understandable that charters are the target of resentment. I convinced the small group I addressed that there are charter schools that offer alternatives and solutions for students who need it, albeit on a small scale. Most of the charter schools I know are willing to recruit children with IEPs and English Language Learners.
Whenever I have a chance to talk to people about the Montessori model I want to implement, they are impressed and interested. I just have to reach more people! I will have a couple of opportunities. The date for the Open Meeting to present my school has been set for June 15th. I’m also hoping to host a presentation at SoBRO to inform families, educators, and the community about the school and about Montessori. I still don’t know how the DoE have reacted to my application, but I continue to reach out to the community. Everyone is invited to offer support!!