As you can see from the post below, I had an informative visit with Ms. Dreya Teel, her son Jared, and staff members from KIPP NJ’s Life Academy. That post was all about Jared, but towards the end of the day Ms. Teel, a long-time Newark resident and single mom of four boys, and Farida Mallah, Jared’s teacher, shared with me their thoughts about New Jersey charter school politics.
Newark remains the epicenter of New Jersey’s charter school wars, with 31 percent of its students currently enrolled in public charters and many more on waiting lists. The last mayoral election — Ras Baraka, the victor, against Shavar Jeffries, now head of Democrats for Education Reform — turned on issues of school choice. A fierce pro-reform group called Hands Off Our Future Collective was born from the dissent. NJEA and its legal arm Education Law Center have filed numerous complaints against charter school expansions, in Newark and elsewhere.
So, I wondered, what does Ms. Teel, who has enrolled her children in both traditional and charter schools (they all now go to KIPP), think of all this hullabaloo? This is what she said.
If you really want to know how charter schools work and how they’re doing, come in and see for yourself. I went to the regular schools and now I have kids who are in charters, but you have to find out for yourself. People want to blame charter schools; they say they’re talking money out of the system. I’ve had debates with parents who work at Newark Public Schools. They ask me, “why are you sending your kid there?”
They don’t understand. Charters aren’t taking anything away from traditionals. They’re just coming up with better ways. Like reading: they really push that and make sure that the child understands! I don’t know what they’re doing in traditional schools. But how can you make your child whole if they don’t know how to read?
I chose charters. [One of my middle sons] got in through the lottery [before the implementation of the universal enrollment system called Newark Enrolls] and that opened the door for everyone else because siblings get preference.
What, I asked Ms. Teel, would you like the gubernatorial candidates to know? (At the time of our meeting, before the primary on June 6th, all six Democratic candidates had come out in favor of a charter school moratorium. The winner of the primary, Phil Murphy, has called for an “pause” and a “time-out” in charter approvals and expansions.
This is what I’d say to them: why would you want to stop something that’s working? Look, when it’s about adults, it’s always about the money. But this is supposed to be about the children. When it comes to kids, you don’t take away help, you add help.
I asked her about the criticism that charter schools only take students with mild disabilities.
My response would be, come and talk to parents. Come and find out. Hear the stories. There are a lot of students here who started off just like Jared and are excelling.
I asked Ms. Mallah, Jared’s dynamic teacher who has been with him since he started kindergarten, the same question.
She said, “I’ve been with KIPP since I graduated from college. We’ve always made it work. We’ve never turned away kids.”
I asked her, what do you think about the accusations that Newark charter schools “cream off” top-performing students?
It’s especially hard for me to hear about creaming. It’s so difficult to hear that people have such misconceptions. I know just how devoted every person here is. These misconceptions can feel like a slap in the face, and they’re very insulting from people who have never come to our building. We’re not perfect but we try very hard to do the best for these kids every day.
Our days are long. I’m here from 7:15 a.m. til 4:45 p.m. with kids every day. Regularly I don’t leave til 6, and sometimes our kids are her that late as well. I’ve seen KIPP teachers and staff do more for kids than I’ve ever heard of anywhere, even outside of the school day. We go to their ballgames and make phone calls. We celebrate with them at recitals and graduation parties. In instances where families have gone through tough times, I’ve seen teachers give kids rides and provide meals.
Ms. Teel said, “that’s why it feels like a family.”