NECSN in NH Register: Booker T. Washington Academy in New Haven embodies best of charter schools

Posted by on 08 / 31 / 2014 0 Reactions

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NECSN Connecticut State Director Jeremiah Grace on the bright future Booker T. Washington Academy will provide New Haven children in this New Haven Register op-ed.
 
 
In a few short days, Booker T. Washington Academy will officially open its doors to New Haven children. It’s the culmination of the hard work of its founding team who shed the embattled FUSE organization and built a new plan from scratch. The state rightfully put them through a tough approval process, and they emerged victorious.
 
Hundreds of New Haven children will now reap the rewards for years to come.
 
This school embodies the best of what the charter school movement can offer while exposing the misrepresentations of the usual charter critics.
 
For years, the founders of this school watched as their New Haven community buckled under the weight of poverty, crime, disinvestment and educational failure. Rev. Eldren Morrison and his parishioners volunteered, became civically engaged and demanded changes.
 
But it wasn’t until the Booker T. Washington Academy charter school proposal that these dedicated people found such a clear path to translate their labor directly into better lives for children.
 
Starting a charter school requires an incredible amount of sweat, tears and maybe even blood. But few endeavors have such a direct, immediate and long-lasting impact on a community. An up-front investment of time and effort by a dedicated group of charter founders can change the educational future of a neighborhood.
 
This is community empowerment at its best: community leaders saw a problem, they came together to create a strong plan to fix it, and after a rigorous oversight process, the state gave them permission to put the plan into action. And on Sept. 15, the dreams of the founders will become a reality.
 
And the founders of this school are both highly talented and deeply grounded in their community. The board Chair Eldren Morrison has led the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church for over seven years with 1,650 members, while becoming an advocate for educational opportunity. Board member Belinda Carberry is currently a New Haven district school principal. The management team includes former New Haven superintendent Reggie Mayo. The list goes on.
 
This is hardly the “corporate takeover” of public education by “profiteering” privatizers that charter critics would have you believe.
 
Public charter schools in Connecticut are run by nonprofits and are free from the bureaucracy that can inhibit innovation, teaching and learning. The charter law also allows community-based organizations to chart their own path and create public schools without being bullied by local political elites.
 
Charters admit students via a blind lottery, so they can’t pick and choose their students. The enrollment process is often not much different than the paperwork parents are required to complete in order to enroll their child in a district kindergarten program.
 
Connecticut charter schools are, without exception or caveat, subject to the state freedom of information laws. When a charter school partners with a charter management organization for help with teacher training, fundraising, and other services, the charter school’s records are still subject to FOI laws. The management organization is treated just like any other nonprofit organization with various state and federal disclosure requirements. Last year, there were only three management organizations in Connecticut. Next year, it will be four.
 
The group at Booker T. Washington Academy has a long, hard road ahead. Breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty and putting more New Haven kids on the path to college and career is not easy work. And the state should hold them accountable for what they’ve promised.
 
But as long as a group like this one can continue to have a path to translate their outrage into action in the form of a new charter school, Connecticut’s future will be that much brighter. That’s why it’s vital that we continue investing in the growth of these public schools of choice while holding them accountable for delivering results.
 
Jeremiah Grace is Connecticut state director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
 
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This article originally appeared on the New Haven Register.

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