Spare Me Your Anti-Charter Nonsense And Come See My School

Spare Me Your Anti-Charter Nonsense And Come See My School

As an educator and parent, I stood with my kids’ teachers during the UTLA strike. I did not cross the picket line and brought teachers coffee and donuts in the rain.

But I’ve been listening to a lot of rhetoric over the past two weeks, leading up to Tuesday’s vote on a charter moratorium. And after experiencing these raging education wars from nearly every angle, I’ve come to believe there’s really only one side to be on: the side of the kids.

Kids, no matter what type of school they attend, deserve a quality education. Charter schools help provide that, and they’re not the cause of LAUSD’s failures. That notion is utterly ridiculous.

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Gathering for Parent Power: ONE CITY, ALL KIDS

Gathering for Parent Power: ONE CITY, ALL KIDS

 I came to Speak UP a year and a half ago as a volunteer bent on effecting real and urgent change in this gigantic district we call LAUSD. In the 2017 LAUSD Board District 4 election campaign, I witnessed first-hand the power of parents coming together to upend the electoral status quo. Parents from across the district came together, from all school models, to fight for a board member who would listen to the voices of parents and put kids first.

Inspired by the parent power momentum of the campaign, I decided I wanted to focus on an area that was close to my heart and that had been plaguing the district for years. As a mother of two special needs children, who landed here from New York City several years ago, I was aghast at the dearth of resources, the culture of low expectations and general lack of supports I saw for any kid who didn’t fit the “regular” learning profile. This includes kids who have or need IEPs, speak English as a second language, have brown or black skin, or who live in underserved neighborhoods.

As time went by, I started working more closely with Speak UP to support parents of kids with special needs by providing them with the tools and knowledge to raise their voices on behalf of their children.

In this role, over the past year, I’ve met with over 100 families, from all walks of life, who send their special needs kids to all kinds of schools.Sadly, too many of those kids have been failed by the system. With each family I met, story after story would emerge, most of them sad, some of them horrible, and all of them with life changing ramifications. My job has been to educate them on their basic rights in public education, and empower them to advocate for important changes to the system. I find this work deeply satisfying, but I am amazed that the school system doesn’t support these parents more. Parents are on the front lines with these kids, picking up the pieces when the school system fails them, and left to figure out on their own how to get their kids back up and lead their best lives. So when, they wonder, will their voices finally be heard?

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Transgender Mom Justine Gonzalez: A Charter Ban Would Harm Families Like Mine

Transgender Mom Justine Gonzalez: A Charter Ban Would Harm Families Like Mine

When my daughter’s LAUSD-run preschool program closed during the teachers strike, it was a difficult juggle for me as a working parent. But we made it work and visited her teachers on the picket line to show support for their demands for higher pay, lower class sizes, more nurses, librarians and counselors.

A week after standing with L.A.’s teachers, though, I’m wondering, will they also stand with me? I was stunned to learn that one condition UTLA demanded in exchange for ending the strike was for the LAUSD school Board to vote on a resolution this Tuesday asking the state to place a moratorium on new charter schools in Los Angeles.

As a transgender, Afro-Latina mother to a daughter entering kindergarten next year, finding the right school where she will feel safe and nurtured is no simple matter. One size does not fit all, especially for a family like ours. So like many of my neighbors, I’m looking at all of my options. That includes applying to several progressive and high-performing nonprofit public charter schools.

There’s a good chance that I, like thousands of parents in Los Angeles, will wind up on a waitlist wishing that there more seats or one more good option available. A moratorium won’t help families like mine, who don’t happen to be fortunate enough to live in a zip code with a high-performing neighborhood school or the means to attend a private school.

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Our Power As Parents Is Weakened When We Are Divided

Our Power As Parents Is Weakened When We Are Divided

On the fifth day of the strike, I showed up to City Hall where the L.A. teacher’s union was holding their rally. I went to the rally because, as a parent of a child enrolled in an independent charter school, I would like to support the teachers’ demands for smaller class sizes and more support staff such as nurses, counselors and librarians. These demands are essential to a healthy thriving school environment and something I think most people support. I believe that all district and charter schools should have these resources and services they need on site for all students.

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LAUSD Magnet Parent and Former Teacher: Union’s Anti-Charter, Us-Versus-Them Mentality Won’t Help Kids

LAUSD Magnet Parent and Former Teacher: Union’s Anti-Charter, Us-Versus-Them Mentality Won’t Help Kids

By Michael Sweeney

“The charter school situation is a mess…self-serving individuals finance policies that don’t serve our children in the long run…It isn’t just about protecting your charter school, at least not if you care about other peoples’ children…I sure hope charter school parents will march and support UTLA…”

I came across that posting on social media the other night, and after my eyes were done rolling back to their proper place, I collected my thoughts. My first impression was that it seemed an awfully big ask. How could charter parents wholeheartedly support a union that actively seeks to shut down their children’s schools, habitually rallies against and creates a hostile environment for any co-location efforts and continually vilifies them with half-truths, untruths and divisive rhetoric at every turn?  After being painted as the bad guy for so long, even in these very same strike negotiations, how is turning around and asking those same families for help not supposed to feel like a slap in the face? Isn’t it a bit like the photo negative of the old adage about biting the hand that feeds you…perhaps, in this case, feeding the mouth that bites you?

But as I thought more about it, it also occurred to me that maybe this could be an opportunity. At some point, if we are ever to get to the perfect world of collaboration and mutually beneficial relationships between all types of schools, particularly traditional public and charter, someone needs to be the proverbial bigger person and start extending some olive branches. Maybe somewhere in this ongoing strike, there could be a chance to foster some goodwill between the two sides. Of course, it would have to come with some assurances that once the picket signs were laid down and everyone returned to their respective classrooms, that the union wouldn’t turn right back around and continue to fight against the schools of the parents that had just provided support.

Full disclosure. I grew up attending an Inglewood public school for elementary school and junior high. I am now a parent of a child attending an LAUSD magnet school with teachers that are striking, teachers that I love and support and care about. But prior to this academic year, my daughter attended a wonderful, progressive independent charter school full of outstanding parents, teachers and administrators. I, myself, am also a former elementary school teacher, working first as a Kindergarten teacher at an independent charter school in Leimert Park for six years, then for four more years as a fifth grade math, science and writing teacher at an independent charter school in Boston. Having seen both sides -- as a teacher and parent -- I have both great concern for the well-being of traditional neighborhood schools, as well as much respect for the work being done at charters. And, frankly, it baffles and saddens me that the two are so often pitted against one another.

In my experience, it seems to be largely a one-sided war. Both as a teacher and a parent at charter schools, I really don’t ever remember there being much urge to compare themselves to, compete with or denigrate any surrounding schools public, private, charter or otherwise. The focus was almost entirely on the school itself, how to improve instruction and opportunity for the students there, and how to remain in compliance and the good graces of the always-watchful powers-that-be so that renewals would continue to be granted, and the schools could continue their work. 

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Teachers and Parents Need To Work Together For Kids to Succeed

Teachers and Parents Need To Work Together For Kids to Succeed

David Moreno* was a great student. In fact, he was one of my favorites. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but we do.

David had been a student in my classes for three of his four years of high school. As a freshman in my 9th grade English class, he had perfect attendance, always did his homework, and came to class with insightful questions about the books we read. As a junior in my AP US History class, he was dedicated to understanding as much as he could about how this country worked. He attended every after-school tutoring session and every Saturday test prep opportunity that I provided.

As a senior in my AP Literature class, he was a voracious reader who took to the internet to read scholarly writings about the novels we were reading and asked for reading recommendations for the summer so that he could be better prepared for the challenges of college literature seminars.

David was the kind of student that teachers dream of having. So it was heartbreaking when David returned to school last December to tell me in person that he would be dropping out of college because the academic challenges were too much for him to handle, and he felt like he was wasting his money.

My experience with David was neither new nor unique. Every year, former graduates would come back to the high school to experience the nostalgia that comes with returning to such places after experiencing the challenges of the adult world. But they would also return to explain to the teachers who had worked so hard to prepare them for college that they would no longer be pursuing higher education because of a self-perceived lack of basic education.

This was, of course, always frustrating to hear, and I would always try to talk each student out of making this unfortunate choice, to little avail. For me, David was the wake-up call. And I knew that I was not alone. For several years, I have worked outside of the classroom doing community organizing with teachers from other schools throughout Los Angeles, and every year I hear stories that echoed my own. Why does this happen?

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Make Voting A Family Affair

Make Voting A Family Affair

The election is less than one week away. California voters will be choosing a new governor and a new state superintendent of public instruction, as well as control of Congress. In other words, it’s a biggie, and the results will significantly impact families. Unfortunately, parents of young children have historically been among the lowest in terms of voter turnout. Figuring out childcare so you can do your civic duty can be challenging. But here’s the good news: You can bring your children along.

According to California voting law, “A voter who is accompanied by children below the age of 18 may take the children into the voting booth.” Some parents allow their kids to help mark the ballots. (Obviously you’ll want to closely supervise this process.) You may even be encouraging lifelong civic engagement by letting your kids tag along.

“There’s some evidence to indicate that voting habits are just that, habits, shaped in part by the practices and routines of our parents when we’re still too young to vote,” pediatrician Perri Klass wrote in The New York Times

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