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Mission Possible

Stories and insights on excellent education.

From Omaha to Albany: An Advocate’s Journey

Ms. Linehan watched last year’s rally in Albany from her hometown in Omaha, Nebraska and was inspired to join Success Academy. She teaches at SA Harlem West.

Imagine a world where being born poor in America in the 21st century no longer routinely meant a child would receive a substandard education. Imagine a school where kids from all backgrounds excelled in the classroom and beyond. Imagine an environment where teachers and parents came together every single day with an unwavering commitment to each child’s success.

Imagine classrooms full of students who love school because they love learning.

Because of schools like Success Academy, this is no longer so hard to imagine in New York City. We have proven beyond a doubt that race, poverty, and neighborhood need not stand in the way of academic achievement. Unfortunately, such schools are rare, and the examples they set too often go unnoticed.

That is why the March 4th rally in Albany is so important – because far too many low-performing schools are failing far too many of our children. We have shown what is possible for kids when they get the education they deserve, and we must spread that message not only in Albany, but also to cities and towns all across America.

Unfortunately, throughout this country, including in my hometown of Omaha, Neb., the idea that all children can excel in excellent public schools is still treated as a myth, and the political pressure to stomp out the mere possibility of high-performing charter schools is immense. Just this week, the Nebraska Legislature killed a bill to authorize charter schools— for the third consecutive year. Nebraska is one of only eight states that prohibit public charter schools.

Omaha, the birthplace of Malcolm X, was recently declared the worst place in the country to be black. The city is home to the College World Series, a world-class zoo, Fortune 500 companies and many millionaires and billionaires, including Warren Buffett. You cannot throw a stone far without hitting a well-funded philanthropic foundation.

Yet, despite its glimmering prosperity and history of philanthropic spending, the poverty rate for black children in Omaha rivals that of every other major American city. While Nebraska boasts low unemployment overall, North Omaha, the heart of the state’s black community, suffers from chronic joblessness and unrealized economic development. Nebraska also has the highest black homicide rate in the country.

Not surprisingly, the educational outcomes for black children in Nebraska are among the worst in the nation. A poor education is both a symptom and a source of poverty, joblessness, and violence — but a high-quality school can reverse that destructive trend.

Omaha, and countless other cities and states, desperately need schools like Success Academy. Such schools are needed because all children deserve a high-quality education, and they are needed to disprove the ugly myth that certain kids from certain communities cannot succeed.

On March 4, we have an opportunity to send a message to the entire country that all students deserve better. We have an opportunity to defend what we know is possible and to show others what is possible. We have an opportunity to lead the charge in a nationwide movement to bring high-quality schools and a world-class education to every single child in every single zip code in the country, including my hometown of Omaha.

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Written by Katie Linehan February 25, 2015

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