Passionate Harlem Parents Rally for Charter Schools

Published February 1, 2009

The New York City-based Success Charter Network has announced plans to host its second annual Harlem Charter Night on March 26 to rally families and politicians in support of charters and school choice.

The organization, which promotes equality of education through reforms that increase the number of charter schools, expects between 3,000 and 4,000 parents to attend.

“It’s really about the American dream, not to be to schmaltzy about it,” CEO Eva Moskowitz said. “Kids from our community in Harlem are going to get a chance to succeed.”

At Harlem Charter Night, students from several charter schools will perform in talent exhibitions, elected officials will speak, and celebrities might also attend, all making a statement about the value of charter schools in the Harlem community.

Best Schools Around

Since New York passed its charter school law in 1998, Moskowitz said, Harlem’s charter schools have proven more successful than traditional public schools in reforming and providing high-quality education.

Now, Moskowitz said, Harlem has more charter schools per square mile than any other community nationwide—22, with two more scheduled to open in 2009. Harlem has a history of poverty and failing public schools, she noted, which has increased the demand for charter schools.

Last year, for example, 5,000 parents entered a lottery for 600 spots at the Harlem Success Academy.

“We actually need more charters,” Moskowitz said. “I’m opening up schools as fast as I can. I can’t open them any faster and guarantee quality, but parents are just knocking down the doors. There’s a really high demand for charters in Harlem. The public schools are failing. At the early grades, it’s a difference between being taught to read and not being taught to read.”

Harlem Charter Night allows families to express how important the schools have been to their children, said Jenny Sedlis, Success Charter Network’s director of external affairs.

“It’s kind of a pep rally for charter school parents and kids that will show the outside world that Harlem parents really love and treasure their charter schools,” Sedlis said. “There are thousands of parents who support them. It’s going to be a joyous, happy, fun event, but also a proof that so many parents do want parental choice and charter schools.”

Connecting Pols, Parents

Last year, the event was hosted by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and attended by about 1,400 people.

DFER Executive Director Joe Williams said the event is effective because it personalizes the discussion about charter schools. Formerly, he said, charter schools were discussed only in the abstract, because they didn’t exist. Now, he said, they not only exist but are often the highest-achieving schools in their neighborhood, and parents are thrilled.

“They’ve got a passionate, engaged constituency,” Williams said. “Harlem Charter Night is a chance to show that there are many people who feel very strongly that charter schools are part of the solution. We just want to put a face on that.”

Williams said the event is unique in uniting politicians with the “end users of charter schools” and giving families the opportunity to speak about the charter schools they treasure.

Jillian Melchior ([email protected]) writes from Michigan.