To Charter or Not to Charter


Last spring, when my daughter, Shaylee, was in second grade, I asked her teacher at Public School 63 in the Bronx to leave her back. Shaylee had struggled with reading and math since kindergarten, and I felt she was not ready to be promoted to third grade.

The teacher said no – no child ever failed in that classroom, and Shaylee was going to pass, contrary to my wishes.

The problem is that she went to a school where thousands of kids failed every year.

All over the city, parents and children are paying the price for our broken school system. There are 143,000 kids trapped in failing schools, and the depth of failure is even worse for children with special needs. At PS 63, just 23 percent of special-needs children passed the state math exam last year and only 19 percent passed the English test.

So I started looking at other options beyond failing district schools. In our part of the Bronx, it’s just a fact that almost all the quality schools are charter schools. I wish there were more great district schools, but there just aren’t.

Shaylee eventually got into Girls Prep Bronx Elementary charter school off the wait list. She is 8 years old now, and she is working closely with the school’s reading specialist so she can catch up to her third-grade classmates. Her teachers also think she may have a learning disability, and they are working with me to have her evaluated. At her old school, that never happened.

How could my daughter spend three years in a school, struggling to learn, and no one saw symptoms of a learning disability, yet the teachers at her new school caught it immediately?

I saw a similar pattern happen with my son.

Jairo is 5 years old. Because he is mildly deaf and needs help with his speech, he has an Individualized Education Program that suggests he would function best in a small class: 12 students, one general-education teacher and one special ed teacher. But the zoned school did not offer 12:1:1 classes. So I took a chance and enrolled him at Boys Prep charter school, and he is far exceeding expectations.

There, Jairo is thriving in a general education class of 25 students, supplemented by speech therapy and occupational therapy. In fact, he is doing so well in this regular classroom setting that his IEP is being changed so he will no longer be categorized as needing a 12:1:1 class.

He will be simply a regular general-education student who needs a little extra help. I never thought that would be possible.

Our children deserve better schools – especially in the Bronx, where the options are few. Not all parents can seek out schools outside their neighborhoods, or travel beyond their districts to find the best classroom setting for their kids. Raising a child, especially one with special needs, is hard enough without the schools making it even harder.

For decades, the schools in my neighborhood have been failing, but my story is proof that opening new, excellent schools can change lives. Excellent schools will end the failing schools crisis, and ensure that every child—even children with special needs—can reach for the stars.

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