Last month, my children and I attended Mayor De Blasio’s town hall meeting in Bensonhurst because my daughter had a question for him. “Why don’t you like Success Academy?” she asked when he called on her, “I’m afraid I’m not going to have a fifth grade.”
Mayor De Blasio responded in a chiding tone: “I have the deepest respect…but this is a question for an adult to raise.” The mayor’s reprimand upset my daughter, and she cried after the meeting. She and my son are truly worried that they won’t be able to continue at Success Academy Bensonhurst through middle school because the city has not yet given it space, and it was hard for her to understand the Mayor’s reasoning. Why would asking a question about where she would go to school for fifth grade be off limits?
How could I explain to my daughter that to elected officials, adults are often the only people who matter. In the case of charter schools, and Success Academy schools in particular, it appears that adults — specifically adults who are members of the teachers union — are the Mayor’s foremost priority.
I wish that Mayor De Blasio understood that for a parent, especially a recently widowed one who is trying to find the most nurturing environment for my children, the charter vs. district debate is meaningless. I don’t care if a school is charter or district — I just want a school that works for my kids. I have finally found a school that is a great fit for both my children, and I am exasperated that adult politics might take this opportunity away from them.
The choice I’ve made for my kids does not mean I am opposed to district schools. I attended district schools growing up, and my older son attended a district school through third grade. The school is a strong one and he had some great years there, but my son is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD, and some of his teachers gave him low grades because of behavior he couldn’t control.
My second-grade daughter was already attending Success Academy Bensonhurst, and I knew how focused the school is on ensuring each student is challenged and engaged. I decided my son needed this level of individualization, and luckily he was accepted through the lottery and moved to Success Academy this year, for fourth-grade.
Fourth grade is an important year for New York City students in district schools, which is another reason I moved my son. Performance on fourth-grade report cards— including behavior performance — is a key factor for admittance to good district middle schools. My son is very capable academically: I didn’t want him to end up at an underperforming middle school simply because of classroom behavior. I knew that Success Academy Bensonhurst had a charter to educate its students through eighth grade, and given my son’s disabilities, as well as his recent loss, it seemed important that he have a seamless and stress-free transition into and through middle school.
But now we are faced with the prospect of not having a middle school. I voted for Mayor de Blasio in 2013, so I was particularly disappointed with how he responded to my family’s concerns. He did not express consternation on behalf of Success Academy Bensonhurst students, nor did he indicate any intention to put a good-faith effort into finding space for our school. Instead, he insulted my daughter, made excuses, and dissembled. The truth is, the search wouldn’t require much effort: there are four schools in our Community School District (CSD 21) that have had 300 or more unused seats every year for the past five years.
At the townhall meeting, my local city councilman followed up the Mayor’s comments with a remark of his own: “I am against parents being pitted against parents,” he said. I couldn’t agree more, and I wanted to tell him that when it comes to education, parents aren’t pitted against each other. In my neighborhood, I know families with children in zoned schools, in G&T schools, in private schools, and in charter schools. We don’t judge each other for the schools our children attend: We understand that finding the right educational fit is what matters.
For us parents, it’s about what’s best for our kids. I wish our elected officials felt the same.
Danny Alfred is a parent of two children at Success Academy Bensonhurst.