Thursday, March 06, 2014


The Next Movement

Originally published in the New York Post, March 6,2014

Last month, the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, urged support for her husband’s signature universal pre-K program by declaring, “Education is clearly the civil-rights issue for today.”
She may well be right — but her husband may be on the wrong side of the real civil-rights issue in education. If Tuesday’s huge rally at the state Capitol, and the words of the parents who rallied, tell us anything, it’s that the charter cause is increasingly looking and sounding like movements of old.
One thing the original civil-rights movement taught America is that people who are passionately energized will sacrifice anything for what they believe in. And these parents are passionate.
Ishema Chadwick Meyers works at a state job where she cares for the mentally challenged; she took the day off to trek up to frigid Albany. And she’ll do it again: “I’ll take a sick day if I have to. That makes sense, because the thought of my kids losing schools that [are] teaching them makes me sick to my stomach.” Ishema’s oldest, Leroy, is a fifth-grader at Harlem Central Success Academy. Mayor de Blasio just took away what would be Leroy’s sixth-grade space.
Samantha Thompson’s daughter Madison is in kindergarten at Success Academy Cobble Hill: “I understand there’s a personal rift between the mayor and [Success Academy CEO] Eva [Moskowitz]. Fine. But don’t take it out on the kids. Doesn’t he realize that we can’t have a better New York without a better education system? I wanted Madison in charters because generally they are all on the same level of quality.”
I asked Whitfield Nicholas (whose son Devante is excelling at Success) what about charters most impresses him? “The diligence of the teachers,” the Antigua-born engineer responds. “In the traditional public schools, if you ask a teacher how to reach them, they say ‘come to see me [in the school]’. In charters, they say call me any time — and mean it.” He sees that as a reason why Success Academy in The Bronx had some of the highest math scores in the state last year.
Not that Nicholas wants conflict between traditional and charter schools. “Both are public schools. It’s Malcolm X and Martin Luther King: Both are headed in the same direction; they’re just taking different paths.”
But which sort of school is which leader?
Nicholas pauses for a moment: “The charters are more Malcolm X — by any means necessary. That’s why we’re here today, right?”
This writer copped a ride with parents and scholars (as Success Academy students are called) back to the city after a long, chilly day. It wasn’t long after the bus hit the road (and sandwiches were eaten) that a young girl’s voice rose up asking, “Can we do some math exercises?”
An exhausted teacher at first said, “Let’s take some quiet time right now.” But not too long afterward, the students were all listening intently as she led them through a fun exercise of drilling exponents, gleefully laughing over who got the question right first.
I told parent Kokayee “Koko” Session-Lansiquot that I hadn’t seen anything quite like that. Fifth-graders asking for math work? Seriously?
Koko, a pre-K teacher herself, responded. “That’s the difference I see with charters. My kids want to go to school. If I’m running late, they tell me: ‘Mommy, you’re going to make me late. I’m missing my morning meeting.’ Monroe [age 11] has gone from being told in a traditional-school kindergarten that he couldn’t learn to having high scores in math and science, consumed with robotics and his telescope.”
Koko’s aunt, Gwen Hedrington, who raised (and home-schooled) her, now cares for a younger nephew and niece. She is no-nonsense and blunt when faced with the threat to charter expansion: “You want to take something away from these kids after they’ve tasted excellence? It’s child abuse, educational neglect, child endangerment.
“If they try that, we must take them to court. Even if we don’t win, we’ll bring enough attention to what they are trying to do. We have a right to a good education. Isn’t that what our ancestors died for?”
These are the voices of parents who see their children’s future in mortal danger, testifying to the impact of charters on their kids, marching to Albany, vowing to do it again — “by any means necessary,” including lawsuits.
Sure sounds like the start of a new civil-rights movement.
Are Bill and Chirlane paying attention?

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