Joy, Dashed Hopes At Harlem Lottery For Charter School

THE NEW YORK SUN—March 23, 2006

getimage-1When Fatou Gueye and her husband arrived in New York from their native Senegal, they possessed little education and big hopes for their children.
Yesterday, those hopes were somewhat dashed when their 6-year-old son, Abdoulaye, was shut out of a lottery for the new Harlem Success Charter School to open in the fall.
“This is the new generation, we want him to have a better life, but he has to go to a good school,” Ms. Gueye, whose husband drives a yellow taxi, said.
She was among the hundreds of hopeful parents who packed into the basement of the Salem United Methodist Church last night, where children’s names were pulled from a box to determine who would win slots for the kindergarten and first-grade classes.
At moments, the event felt more like the TV game show “The Price Is Right.”
Parents squealed and jumped out of their seats when their child’s name was called.
“Would scholar Bobby Bowman come on up,” the head of the school, Eva Moskowitz, boomed into a microphone after Bobby’s name was the first to be plucked from the box.
A few parents did a little dance as they were handed a yellow piece of paper with instructions about how to officially enroll their child.
“It’s like ‘American Idol.’ I got my gold ticket to Hollywood,” Nigel White beamed after his daughter’s name was pulled from the box. Her name is Legin, or Nigel spelled backward.
When a Fox television crew stopped Mr. White and asked how he felt, he paused for a moment: “It’s my first child, my first school; it’s a big time for my family right now,” he said.
Eager parents, some who traveled from the Bronx, clutched children on their laps and crowded around round tables covered with plastic orange tablecloths. Several bemoaned their local public schools and said they viewed the charter school as a way out for their child.
More than 440 children applied for the 155 available kindergarten and first-grade slots. The school will grow each year until this first class reaches eighth grade.
Despite the elation of some parents, it was hard to ignore the boxes of Kleenex placed on each table in anticipation of a few tears that may fall at the end of the evening.
“It’s hard for minorities to excel, coming from the backgrounds or neighborhoods where we come from,” a housekeeper from the Bronx, Shi
boan Laboy, said. “I think education is the no. 1 way to get children out of the ghetto.”
She said she refused to send her 5-year-old daughter, Jaylin, to one of the schools in her neighborhood. Jaylin did not earn a slot in next year’s firstgrade class.
The event was the brainchild of Ms. Moskowitz, the former chairwoman of the City Council’s Committee on Education who represented the Upper East Side.While schools are required to hold a lottery, Ms. Moskowitz was among the first school leaders to invite the press.
“I want the public to see to see how desperate parents are, and politicians in particular. It’s very easy to make this an abstract debate, but it’s not abstract for these parents,” Ms. Moskowitz said. “I can’t believe that somebody would stand in the way of children trying to get a good education.”
Ms. Moskowitz extended invitations to last night’s event to Governor Pataki, the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, and the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver.
In a letter, she asked them to come witness first-hand “parents’ pain.”
Harlem Success Charter School is one of a dozen of the privately run but publicly funded schools to open next
year, but it could be among the last.
When the state approved the creation of charter schools in 1998, the law limited the number of such schools to 100 statewide. All of those charters have now been doled out.
As part of the budget negotiations in Albany, Mr. Pataki has called for lifting the cap to 250 from 100. But the
Republican-controlled Senate is looking to keep the charter issue separate from the budget.
About 12,000 students currently attend 47 charter schools citywide including 15 that opened this year.
Opponents of charter schools argue that they are funneling much-needed dollars away from the public school
system and that public dollars should not be used for schools that operate outside of local oversight.
The schools are shielded from many rules, regulations, and union contracts that govern conventional public schools. Until recently, the United Federation of Teachers was a vocal opponent of charter schools. In Septem
ber, they opened one of their own in Brooklyn to prove that a charter school could be successfully run with union teachers.
Lotteries for the city’s other new charter schools are scheduled to be held in the upcoming weeks, but so far most others are not making the events public.

%d bloggers like this: