June 22, 2012
Parents and community activists protested in Harlem yesterday, taking turns to give speeches and heed warnings to schools that will soon share space with a controversial charter network.
But unlike previous protests against the Success Charter network, the rally was significantly smaller. Noticeably missing were the politicians who came out to support a protest against the plan to bring a new Success Academy to the building where Wadleigh Secondary School of Performing Arts operates.
Organizers said they didn’t expect politicians or union to attend because they were busy dealing with last-minute city budget affairs and the close of the state legislative session. Instead, they said the rally was planned specifically with parents in mind – after state exams ended this week.
“This is not a union rally. This is not a special interest rally. This is a parent and a community rally,” said Noah Gotbaum, a vocal education activist and member of Community Education Council 3.
At yesterday’s event, approximately 50 protestors chanted “separate is unequal” and held signs despite in 95 degree weather at 110th Street and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard, just a few blocks from Wadleigh. A handful of children attended the event.
“We’re out here to express frustration over what’s been happening in our schools and say that we’re not going to continue to take it,” said Jonathan Westin, the organizing director for New York Communities for Change, a community-based group that advocates for local issues.
The group organized the rally to bring together parents from P.S. 241, 208, 30, 149, and Wadleigh. They repeatedly shared their message of unfair resources and a divided community to Wadleigh parents and activists.
“It’s not just the rooms that are taken from us, we also have the division between the students,” said Sharon Coggins, a P.S. 241 parent. She said the school’s lack of space forced the principal to close its art program while the co-located Success Academy had access to more and better resources.
Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success, wrote an op-ed this morning that challenged many of the critiques brought up at the rally, which echoed similar complaints that are regularly made by the city’s teachers union. Space-sharing plans, she wrote, are only controversial when it involved schools that aren’t stocked with unionized teachers.
By September, Wadleigh will be one of several schools across the city that will share space with a Success Academy school.
“I have no animosity toward charter schools but the Department of Education has made the decision – against the school leadership team and against the entire community’s wishes – to co-locate Harlem Success Academy into our building,” said Anthony Klug, the union chapter leader at Wadleigh.
Standing silently among the chanting crowd was Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a pro-charter parent who created the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC to help elect politicians who support charters.
“We need new ideas, we need choice, we need to put the children first – not the teacher’s union,” said Lopez-Pierre, who is quickly emerging into Harlem’s political education scene but is already becoming a controversial figure.
“In charter schools, they don’t put up with that nonsense. There’s discipline, there’s organization, that’s what parents want,” he added.
But for another parent, the rally against Success Academy has little to do with politics.
“I don’t have anything against the charter schools. I feel like what they’re doing is great,” said Lisa Pressley, whose daughter attends the school. “But find your own space. Don’t steal space from the kids in this community.”