Friday, June 23, 2006

Chalkboard Profile: Chris Smith

By J.R. Wilheim

Chris Smith, a single mother of three living in Rochester, New York, is so passionate about the charter school two of her children attend that she has become an advocate for all children in New York State to have the same opportunities.

Smith first became aware of the deficiencies of local public schools when her oldest child, who had earned As and Bs in an unchallenging public school, entered a Catholic middle school. There, he suddenly struggled to get Cs and was forced to spend two years trying to catch up to his peers who had been in Catholic school all their lives. Smith estimates that, on entering the Catholic school, her son was at least two years behind the other students. Still, Smith felt that the education he was getting there was so valuable to her son that she was willing to work two jobs to keep him there.

When it came time for her other children to begin middle school, however, she knew that she could not possibly afford the tuition for all of her children to attend her son'’s Catholic school. So she started looking into charter schools, eventually choosing Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School for its exception bilingual program.

Asked how Eugenio Maria de Hostos has been different from the public school her second child, a daughter, had previously been attending, Smith said the schools were "like night and day."” Her daughter, who enrolled in the charter school as a second grader, read far above grade level. The local public school handled this exceptional ability by forcing Smith's first-grader to go to a third-grade class for her reading period. In that class, she encountered a lot of hostility from her third-grade classmates.

In contrast, teachers at Eugenio Maria de Hostos handled exceptionally gifted children by creating a reading curriculum geared to the abilities the children in their class actually exhibited, rather than separating them and forcing them to be with students of an inappropriate age.

So impressed has Smith been with the dedication shown by the charter school's faculty and administration - —she describes them as a group who nearly all "give 110 percent," —that she has served the school as a parent board member for 3 years and as president of its Parent-Teacher Organization for one year. More recently, she joined the board of Parents for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group working to lift the statewide cap on charter schools, currently set by the legislature at 100, so that all New York state parents —can choose the kind of quality education Eugenio Maria de Hostos is providing her children.

"People need to realize that the charter school movement is a positive movement for education," she says. "The movement gives parents a choice, and, unlike public schools, are held responsible if they fail to educate children."

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