On quality schools, city parents just stopped taking 'no' for an answer

ByClaudia Rahman-Dujarric (op-ed)

Read full article at NYPost.com >

As a parent, the most important decision I’ve made is where my son should go to school. Looking around at the options in my neighborhood in the South Bronx, I panicked: The district schools in my zone were among the lowest-performing in the city.

Thousands of students, most of them black and Latino, have graduated from these schools for decades unable to read at grade level. I was determined that my son wouldn’t be one of them.

Unlike for affluent parents, however, private school or even parochial school was unaffordable for me and therefore out of the question.

So we did what thousands of other parents have done over the past 10 years and entered several charter-school lotteries, praying that my son would be one of the lucky ones who got in to one of the schools.

Like so many other parents, especially in poor, underserved neighborhoods, we felt it was his only chance. We were overjoyed when we learned he drew a lucky number and would be admitted at KIPP STAR Washington Heights elementary charter school.

Most of all, I’m thrilled to report that he’s flourishing in what is a rich, rigorous learning environment that is preparing him for a choice-filled life.

That’s why I can’t understand for the life of me why many New York elected officials — including those our communities overwhelmingly support — seem determined to make life as hard as possible for parents just like me as we choose a public school.

Quality district seats in lower-income communities of color are few in number. Public charter schools are a path to achievement for many families, but the demand dwarfs the supply, and the city clearly hasn’t prioritized creating new seats and tuning in to answer this demand.
Look no further than the tens of thousands of kids on waitlists.

Every day I remember that my son is one of the lucky ones. Yet, access to a quality education should not be left up to luck. All New York City children deserve an education that gives them every opportunity.

For these kids, I’m joining up with thousands of parents just like me to march over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall today.

As a parent, it’s important to me to turn out, stand tall and support my child’s school. Plus, the city needs to know that we are proud of our schools, our students and their teachers, and that it’s high time they took them as seriously as we do.

The parents joining me to march for our kids’ schools come from my neighborhood in The Bronx, as well as Central Brooklyn — where one in three kids attends a public charter school — and Harlem, where nearly half of the kids are charter students.

This isn’t a coincidence. Let’s face it: These are lower-income neighborhoods where we hear the word “no” a lot. “No,” to good district schools. “No,” to good-paying jobs. “No,” to good affordable housing.

We shouldn’t have to hear a “no” from the city when it comes to choosing a quality public school for our kids.

Today, we are hoping that when we walk across the bridge and speak in one voice, City Hall listens to the thousands of parents massed on its doorstep and realizes it shouldn’t — and can’t — avoid us any longer.

We’re going there to make sure elected officials get the message loud and clear and understand that our voices and our choices matter to us — and should start mattering to them.

They should be on notice: Parents won’t sit on the sidelines any longer when our kids’ education is at stake.