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Parent Voices, Parent Choices

In the past few weeks, Success Academy parents have shown amazing support and appreciation for our schools, as they have defended us publicly in the press and privately to friends and staff. Your words of encouragement, the trust you place in us to educate your children, and your deep appreciation for our faculty are heartening and profoundly moving. We are not perfect, but we work hard to achieve great results for our scholars. Our principals and teachers are not creating school-to-prison pipelines, and they are not militaristic drill sergeants or strict disciplinarians. They are building wonderful communities of learners, and they are some of the brightest, warmest, most loving and considerate people on the planet. They care deeply for children and spend most of their waking hours thinking, planning, and dreaming how to challenge and engage kids in the most meaningful ways. On behalf of them and everyone at Success Academy, I want to thank the many parents and friends who have taken the time to fight back against the false accusations and gross exaggerations of the special-interest groups that want to undermine our success.

Below are a few of the many letters and emails.

Charter schools are the best thing that has happened to the communities of the South Bronx. The supply of seats cannot meet the demand. In three months of schooling, my kindergartener is reading, adding, subtracting and willingly trying to learn. Charter schools believe in positive reinforcement and rewarding great kids. It makes kids strive to do better because teachers actually care. They are not zombies protected by a complacent union but career-driven, educated educators. Public schools in minority communities are failures due to failed tactics. Get it right: Students go to school to learn but education begins at home!

Michelle Nieves, SA Bronx 1 Parent
New York Daily News, 11/16/15

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s comparison of Success Academy’s discipline policies to the South Carolina police officer’s assault on a high school student was disgusting and unwarranted. My child attends Success Academy and it has been a wonderful experience, with science five times a week, chess and after-school sports, all taught by a staff of caring teachers. Weingarten should learn a thing or two about how children can flourish by observing Success Academy rather than spouting such dishonest rhetoric.

David Turner, SA Union Square parent
New York Daily News, 11/16/15

As the parent of two students at a Success Academy elementary school, I am outraged by Randi Weingarten’s comparison of a violent act by a police officer to a piece of paper, albeit one with egregiously inappropriate content. She makes sweeping generalizations about the entire network based on the acts of an individual. But having visited my children’s school many times, I know that our dedicated teachers and staff work hard to create a safe environment that is conducive to education and allows all children to learn. They do not simply resort to suspensions or expulsions with difficult children. I also understand the inevitability of some students being expelled in extraordinary cases — just as they are in DOE-run public schools. Not one parent or teacher I know approves of the “Got To Go” list, but we know it is an anomaly. When the teachers union and its leadership stand up for anything other than the rights of their constituents, I view it with skepticism. Weingarten’s sudden interest in racial inequality in education appears to be yet another veiled attempt to attack charter schools.

Manisha Shah, SA Upper West parent
New York Daily News, 11/16/15

It is frustrating to have so many outsiders like Randi Weingarten constantly attack Success Academy schools. I am a single mother raising two boys, and Success has been a blessing from the sky. I was afraid to have my kids in a public school because, after doing my research, I realized how poorly most public schools are doing — and I couldn’t afford private school. My kids are getting an extraordinary education at Success. My 9-year-old son is in fourth grade and reading at a high-school level. Success parents are not complaining. We are happy and thankful for this wonderful opportunity.

Ana Vasquez, SA Harlem 1 and SA Harlem West parent
New York Daily News, 11/13/15

This is the fourth year I sent both my kids to a Success Academy. The animosity toward these schools is difficult to understand. I asked my children what they thought of their teachers. They said, “We love them. They give us hugs, they help us, and they let us have parties at the end of the week if we are good scholars.” Charter schools are publicly funded. They are free; children get in through a lottery system. They provide by far the best education available for free in New York City. Most of the criticism towards Success Academy comes from people who have never even ventured inside their classrooms. I’ve spent time in the science classes. I was blown over by the kids’ grasp of the fundamentals. They approached a question with a hypothesis and predictions at the tender age of 5. My children are very different, but both love school. They’re thriving, curious learners.

Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann, SA Upper West parent
New York Daily News, 11/13/15

I am generally reluctant to react to remarks in written form as I don’t feel comfortable in my skills as a writer to express my thoughts eloquently. However, Randi Weingarten’s Op-Ed compels me to say something. She writes that “Staff and peer mediators should work with students on restorative practices through which students assume responsibility for their actions.” This is exactly what Success Academy practices and encourages in every aspect of a student’s education and life. They strive to educate all their scholars academically as well as nurture and guide them into becoming curious, productive, open-minded individuals. As a parent and frequent volunteer at my daughters’ school, I see this first-hand on a regular basis. Moreover, to compare the suspension or expulsion of elementary students to the assault of an African-American student in South Carolina is not only offensive but ludicrous.

Maria Gargano, SA Williamsburg parent
New York Daily News, 11/13/15

Parents also wrote letters of support to other publications or the principals at their schools:

My daughter wasn’t the most studious child; however, after her acceptance to this exceptional school, I have seen a love of learning from her daily. My child was a scholar at a very good public school, but when she was accepted to SA, I decided to give it a try. I am extremely interested in my child’s learning and the environment she is getting that from, so I made it my duty to be in school very often. What I saw made my heart feel lifted. The school and the learning environment make me feel safe. The teachers and leadership team expect nothing more than our scholars can give. It’s not an environment of harsh treatment; rather, it is an environment where children are expected to be the best child they can be and are rewarded when they displayed such mannerisms. It is bringing tears to my eyes when I read such nasty remarks by persons who don’t appreciate order. I’d rather my child receive discipline now than leave her to her will and have the city Correction Department apprehend her later in life.

Success Academy has been proven to bring out the best in our scholars. I have personally seen some scholars on a bad day, and the love, care and patience the teachers and leadership team have shown surpass my expectations. How dare journalists and others who never stayed a day within the school doors comment on things they know nothing about. Personally, I believe that the parents of children who left because of displeasure with the school are people who refuse to accept the truth and work with the teachers, leadership and, most importantly, their children. My child is my number one priority, and if she is distracting the learning of other scholars and herself, I would work with my child to resolve that. It is repulsive that anyone should be upset with Success Academy’s educators. I salute all Success Academy teachers and I salute Ms. Moskowitz for enduring all these darts that are coming their way. Only when something is great would others try to bring it down. But I am one voice among many families who are very proud to have our children enrolled in such an amazing school. Keep up the great work!

Jernique Webb, SA Bergen Beach parent

Earlier this week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten published an op-ed in the Daily News that was misguided and deeply offensive. It equated the high expectations that Success Academy has for all children with a South Carolina police officer’s assault on a high school student. Furthermore, it proposed that schools must simply focus more attention on “the need for social, health and psychological services to address students’ needs” to ensure school safety.

With all due respect, Ms. Weingarten’s views and proposals are nonsense. Her characterization of Success Academy and its discipline policies is a cheap form of political pandering that does not remotely mirror the reality I see every day in my child’s school. In my child’s classroom, there is no militaristic “zero tolerance.” Instead, there is a well-defined and well-understood set of expected behaviors and consequences to ensure all children are learning. The consequences for misbehavior escalate gradually and logically. No child is punished or suspended for arbitrary reasons.

I know the behavior system at Success works from seeing my child’s classroom. The quality of education is amazing, and the camaraderie among the students is terrific. The teachers foster a joy for learning that helps my child embrace the rules and consequences. It is so amazing to hear a 6-year-old discuss the school’s values. (How many kids, in kindergarten or first grade, even learn about values?) Being critical of Success Academy is fine; the organization is receptive to continuous feedback and committed to improvement. But, as my English grandmother would have said, baseless attacks are just poppycock.

Robert Stevens, SA Union Square parent

Dear Ms. Waldman:

Thank you again for giving Daisy the opportunity to join the second grade. While it took some adjusting, last night she told me she was very happy there, for which I am so grateful. Her teachers are wonderful (as have been all of her SAUS teachers) and she is in a challenging learning environment, as it should be.

I just wanted to write a quick note about today’s New York Times article. It’s a shame that they are pushing this agenda, continually trying to publish what they believe will be an earth-shattering exposé about the schools. Clearly, they failed at their intentions, as the majority of comments on today’s article made clear.

In these various pieces, this is the first time I have seen Union Square mentioned. For what it’s worth, I just wanted to send a note in support of you and the policies of the school. We are so glad Daisy is here and are grateful for the hard work and dedication shown by you and your entire team.

Jennifer Hampton, SA Union Square parent

To The New York Times:

Discipline and rigor are not the enemy of Success.  

I grew up with very clear guidance from my parents on their expectations for my school performance: Respect your teachers, work hard so you can get good grades, and expect to be held accountable for the results.  Being held accountable took on many forms, from giving me money for every “A” on my report card to being grounded or occasionally getting a whooping for lying to them about studying, homework, or if my behavior caused them to be called to school.  My parents never graduated from elementary school (5th grade at best), but they knew that not only did I have to work hard in school, but they had to work hard to make sure I took advantage of the opportunity.  They would go to every parent-teacher conference, reviewed my test scores through high school (they didn’t necessarily understand the test but did want to see the scores), and if they saw me struggling, they would enlist my older sister or a neighbor to give me a little tutoring.  In short, my parents were engaged in their children’s education.

That was over 40 years ago.  When did we, as parents, decide that providing a quality education to our children was someone else’s responsibility?  Why are we satisfied to merely hope that life opens the right doors for our children, instead of lacing up our big heavy boots and kicking those doors off the hinges and inviting our children in?  If my child is disruptive or called to the principal’s office for any reason, should I roll my eyes and say “welcome to my world of unruly behavior”?  Or instead, should I get spitting mad that my child thinks that school is a joke and that he doesn’t have to try too hard because society owes him opportunities, a job, a career, and a safety net?  We have become so accepting of mediocrity and drunk on the elixir of just being average that we react with shock and revulsion when anyone pushes us, or our children, toward excellence. Those poor kids—they can’t take the pressure.    

In my opinion, pushing is essential to educating children. That’s what my parents did, and when I gained some momentum, they pushed me a little more. Children are not fragile. They crave knowledge and skills in order to continuously amaze themselves at what they are capable of doing.  Excellence requires hard work: just ask anyone who performs at a world-class level, from musicians to chefs to neurosurgeons and registered nurses. They didn’t stumble on excellence; they put in thousands of hours of practice, rigor, learning from mistakes, and dedicating themselves to a high standard.  

As parents, we must put in the time and hard work to get engaged in our children’s education to ensure that they, in turn, are making the effort to take advantage of the opportunity for a world-class education.  It doesn’t matter if your kids go to a district school, a charter school or an expensive private school. The effort to achieve excellence is the same.  And more often than not, what allows an underserved child in an average or subaverage school (like the one I attended) to succeed, is every bit as much about parent engagement as it is about working hard.  We need to get engaged every single day.

Evaristo and Mariann Barrios, SA Hell’s Kitchen parents

Written by Eva Moskowitz November 19, 2015

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