Education

“Public” and Charter Schools Open

“Public” and Charter Schools Open

September 12, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
 
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott attended several schools last week when they opened their doors for a new semester. Harlem Village Academy High School in Harlem, a non-union charter school founded by Deborah Kenny, was one of the schools on the tour. One of the reasons the Chicago Teachers Union is striking is to beat back the privatization of public education best represented by the proliferation of charter schools.

Interestingly, during his tour of the brand new high school Chancellor Walcott did not mention once the words “public school” as he was questioned by reporters. He said the school was part of his itinerary because Harlem Village Academy is a great charter school.

“I wanted to make sure I showed them the support. Plus, it’s an important day because it’s a brand new building for them. We had a partnership early on when I was Deputy Mayor and so this is a culmination of a dream, a dream that benefits our students,” said Walcott.

Ms. Kenny said it was an uphill battle to open the new building because constructing a building in New York City is a very difficult thing to do.

“Charter schools are not given buildings, all the time. At the time we started, we were not afforded a building. Charter schools are not treated equally; we want to spend all our time on education, but we were forced to divert some of our energy and time into making up for things that were not given, including facilities. It’s a very difficult process to put a facility together.”

Kenny said that one of the underlying educational philosophies of Harlem Village Academy High School is a progressive approach to education.

“We want to teach students to understand the concepts behind something, not to memorize formulas. We want them to be able to analyze text, not memorize for a test.”

Whether or not that philosophy was on display when Chancellor Walcott visited a classroom where the students were discussing the book written by author Wes Moore, “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” is debatable.

The premise of the book is that the main protagonist, the author himself, and another character (also named Wes Moore) both undergo very similar and difficult circumstances in their youth, but whereas the protagonist reaches heights of success, the other character falls victim to imprisonment.

On Amazon’s website, there’s a video accompanying the book where the author says, “The biggest gap we have in our society isn’t necessarily the education gap, or the technology gap, but it’s the expectation gap.”

And in the classroom above the chalkboard, from one end to the other, was the question “Is a Man a Victim or an Agent of His Fate?”

Harlem is one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and however one interprets and answers that question, the response from one student when Walcott asked for the students’ impressions and reactions to the book was startling. The student self-deprecatingly said, “I won’t have anybody but myself to blame if I don’t succeed.”

LaborPress asked Chancellor Walcott how important are charter schools to educating New York City’s school children.

“I’m a big believer in charter schools; I’m a big believer in choice. Whether it’s a charter school or non-charter school, they should have challenging curriculum. I’d have all of you [talking to surrounding reporters] tested to go to these schools to see if you understand what is being taught. Our teachers and principals are really leading very challenging curricula for our students, which is the way it should be.”

Whether charter schools can do a better job than public schools in educating children, Walcott responded, “I want to be very clear, this is not a competition between charters and schools that are not charters. This is a competition to make sure our students are prepared for college and careers. And all of our schools, all 1,750 schools, are going to be working hard to achieve excellence, and where they can’t then we’ll put new schools in their place.”   marc@laborpress.org  

September 12, 2012

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