The Secret to Success?

The NYC parenting mantra seems to be "whatever it takes." Whether it is cramming for G&T tests, interviewing for exclusive private schools or moving to the suburbs of New Jersey, organizing your child's early education is a full time job.  In other places, PTA meetings are about planning the next bake sale. Here, in the city that never sleeps, it is all about winning. How can we make our school the best in the city? And then, once it is, how can make sure everyone knows it?

My neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn is currently in the midst of a heated debate over the installation of a new Success Academy Charter School, scheduled to open in August. Like all charters, the new school is going to share space with an existing public school, in this case a struggling middle school on South 3rd street. Many of the parents who I am friendly with do not want this school in our community. There are various reasons. Some of them oppose the high priced marketing campaign that has plastered ads all over the Bedford Avenue train station in a clear attempt to attract the white middle class. Some parents are against the charter network's high emphasis on test scores which they feel is at the expense of more progressive learning methods. Some parents view charter schools as a corporate takeover of the public school system, and indeed they do get a portion of their funding from private sources.

The parents who want Success Academy in Williamsburg want better options for their children. They state (and unfortunately are mostly correct) that the public schools in our district report appallingly low test scores on standardized tests. More than half of the children are reading well below grade level.  The parents cannot afford private school (or do not want it) and do not want to commute to the Lower East Side or other areas of Brooklyn in order to give their child the education he or she deserves. Success Academy students do really well on tests. The ads for the school (if you choose to believe them) brag about daily science classes, recess, art. The kids wear uniforms (ugly ones but still) and are quiet and well behaved. Who wouldn't want their kid enrolled?

Maya currently goes to one of these "failing" public schools. Thankfully, a new principal took over three years ago, a woman who is creative and committed to improvements.  Her school now has a dual language kindergarten where the kids are taught in English and Spanish. In September it will debut a brand new ASD-Nest class where 8 "normal" kids are mixed with 4 high functioning kids on the autism spectrum. The ASD class has only 12 kids and two very experienced teachers, a ratio unheard of in public school. The dual language program promises a fully bilingual child by third grade.  Even more important, the school is full of motivated parents, particularly in the younger grades, who are busting their asses to help bring in new programs, new ideas and most of all, new money.

This is how it should be in all our public schools. The kids are not learning the way they should? Lets figure out why. Do they need tutoring? More materials? Better teachers?  Is it just a function of money? Time to throw a fundraiser. Instead of closing down struggling schools to make room for charters, why doesn't the DOE work to fix the schools we already have? And if they truly believe that Success Academy is doing it right, why not just take some of what they do and implement it in our already existing neighborhood schools? 

I understand about wanting to keep your options open. If you have been reading this blog for awhile you know that Maya took the G&T test about two months ago. We get the results in April. There is only one G&T school in our district. It is overcrowded and far enough away to require a Metrocard.  There is a citywide G&T school in Gravesend, Brooklyn, which describes as " a unique place and has resources other city schools only dream of: traditional learning materials alongside abundant technology like math manipulatives, a kid-scaled science lab loaded with animals, and entire classrooms dedicated to block building, science, music, and studio art." This dream school has a requirement of a 99% score on the G& T test,  And a long waitlist. Even if Maya were to score that high (does anyone???) it is a 40 minute commute (without traffic) every day, twice a day, for 5 years. 

Yes there are empty classrooms in District 14. Instead of a charter school, why not add just one more G&T program? How about giving us that choice? Or even better, get rid of the stupid G&T test altogether and make every public school as desirable as this one.

Putting a Success Academy in Williamsburg is like showing up at the scene of a 10 car pileup with a box of Band-Aids. Sure, some people will get their boo-boos fixed. But what about the guy with the broken leg? The car that is on fire? Shouldn't someone bring some other resources? At the very least an ambulance would help. Actually what would have been most useful was if everyone had driven a bit slower and had all remembered to fasten their seatbelt.

 In other words DOE, help us to help ourselves. Maya's school is improving every year, due to the combined hard work of the principal, the teachers and the parents. Success Academy is not the answer. Not when you already have hundreds of motivated moms and dads who will do anything for our children, right here in the neighborhood. Just show us where to put our passion. (And, for some at least, our money)  We will make these schools shine...or die trying.