For the past 16 years, either one or both of my two older sons have been enrolled at a New York City district school. I saw enough in those 16 years to want better for my third son: chaotic classrooms, bullying, and an utter lack of college preparation — frustrations that keep parents awake at night. These problems intensified in middle school, just when kids should be building a foundation for high school and college.
When it came time for me to think about kindergarten for my third son, Barack, I knew district schools weren’t the answer. I attended a Success Academy information meeting and heard its founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz, speak. Her message — that ZIP code should not determine destiny, that all kids from all backgrounds in all neighborhoods deserve access to world-class schools — changed Barack’s life. After that speech, I knew I would send Barack to Success Academy Rosedale, and then to Success Academy middle and high schools.
I take the notion of a world-class education very seriously. Since Barack’s first day of school five years ago, he has not once been late — despite a commute of an hour and a half on three buses. His education is too important.
In that time, Barack has fallen in love with reading and math (he scored at the highest possible level in both on the state exams); he won four chess trophies last year and expects to win even more this year; and most importantly, he is genuinely happy to go to school and learn every day.
For all the challenges and traumas my two eldest sons faced at district schools, Barack has found the opposite — a great, loving school that is putting him on the path to college.
That’s why I’m all the more devastated that as it stands today, Barack — and 841 other public charter school students — have nowhere to go for middle school next year. As I saw so often their district schools, those in charge (in this case, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina) are hiding behind bureaucracy, using that excuse to avoid giving us answers: Will we have a middle school? Where will it be? And when will you bother to tell us?
It’s as if the Mayor is trying to take away a great school — the first public school in New York that’s actually worked for my family. Think about this: The students in Barack’s Success Academy Rosedale 4th grade class — the ones who need a middle school next year — are in the top 1% of all kids in New York State in English. Even more impressive: they are tied for the top school in the whole state in math. What other proof does the Mayor need? Maybe he should be honest and admit that his delay is just a political game to him.
But it is no game for me and my son. I know that district middle schools are particularly bad. I know that for every one student at a high performing district middle school where the majority of students are of color, there are 59 other kids stuck in failing ones. Those are odds I cannot accept for Barack.
On October 13, the Mayor missed another key deadline, meaning that hundreds of parents like me must wait at least another month before we know anything. How much longer will he keep us in the dark?
I’ve seen what the district has to offer — and I saw firsthand how my older boys were underserved. And I know what Success Academy can do for kids. The Mayor has an opportunity to do right by all of New York City’s children. He should put politics aside and find public middle school space for us immediately.
Dulia Phillip-Johnson is the mother of three children, including a fourth grader at Success Academy Rosedale. She lives with her family in Rockaway Beach.