Charter school rally in Downtown Brooklyn draws 15,000

Jennifer Hudson, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Aloe Blacc perform

October 7, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Roughly 15,000 charter school supporters, many from the city’s 34 Success Academy schools, rallied in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn Wednesday morning. Organized by Families for Excellent Schools, speakers called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to end what they called two separate school systems.  Photo by Mary Frost
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As helicopters buzzed overhead and chartered buses lined Cadman Plaza West, roughly 15,000 chanting charter school supporters — many from the city’s 34 Success Academy schools — held a politically-charged rally in Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn Wednesday morning.

Organized by the charter umbrella group Families for Excellent Schools, speakers called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to end what they called two separate school systems — charters versus traditional public schools — saying that minority students in New York City are limited in their educational options.

Charter supporters including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Joe Herrera, an organizer for Families for Excellent Schools, and Bronx Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo said the mayor hadn’t done enough to eliminate what they called the “Tale of Two School Systems.”

“Why are we here?” Herrera asked the crowd. “That word is equality. The simple idea that all children deserve a great school. All children should succeed regardless of their zip code.”

Natasha Cherry-Perez, a parent from Uncommon Schools who grew up in Brooklyn, said all children should have access to a great school. She led the crowd in the chant, “What do we want? Great schools. When do we want them? Now!”

Several times throughout the rally the proceedings were halted to announce the name of a missing child. Another time, a child asked the emcee to announce a missing parent. The disconnected were eventually reunited.

Nikhil Laud, a Success associate leadership resident attending the rally, told the Brooklyn Eagle via text message, “The disparate life outcomes amongst our nation’s poor youth of color, and in turn their communities, is a story of suffering and possibility. With high expectations, parental involvement and adequate resources, generations of societal neglect and poverty can be reversed.”

Laud questioned whether “political and financial leaders have the courage to ensure that all youth have access to the same educational opportunities they want for their own children.

The city, however, says it is working hard to improve education for all children.

“Mayor de Blasio is focused on ensuring that every child, in every classroom, has a future that isn’t limited by their ZIP code,” Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, told the Eagle.

“Our programs and solutions lift up every student with difference-makers like Pre-K for All; universal reading support for second graders; and college-track coursework like algebra, computer science and challenging AP classes offered for every student,” Norvell added. “We believe that’s the path to raising achievement—not just for some students—but for all students.”

The mayor has been critical of charter schools and of the tactics of Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, a former member of the City Council. The city faces a dilemma now as it seeks spaces in school buildings and elsewhere to put the expanding number of charter schools, even as it runs short of space in traditional public schools.

On Wednesday, Moskowitz revealed that she planned to make an announcement at City Hall on Thursday concerning her political plans.

Roughly 15,000 charter school supporters attended the rally, many from the Success Academy network. Photo by Mary Frost

The rally resembled a rock concert at times, with performers including Grammy-winning star Jennifer Hudson, DJ Jazzy Jeff and hip hop artist Aloe Blacc, who performed on an elevated stage surrounded by sound speakers and tight security. Children from the Success Academy Dance team also put on a show.

Grammy-winner Jennifer Hudson thrilled with her electrifying performance. Photo by Mary Frost

Photo by Mary Frost

Aloe Blacc. Photo by Mary Frost

DJ Jazzy Jeff. Photo by Mary Frost

“I’m here to support charter schools because this city needs better schools for our children, better [opportunities] so they can be better able to progress in life and not just be put in wherever regular people want them to be put,” Harlem mom Ishema Chadwick told the Eagle.

Chadwick said her children, Jasiah and Robert, attend Harlem Central and Harlem Success Academy H2.

Brooklyn aunt Shenice said she came to the rally with her niece, second-grader Amiyah, who attends Success Academy in Crown Heights.

“Being someone who graduated from school in New York, it’s something I support because better education for the future generation is what builds our country today.”

However, Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst and research professor at New York University, called the rally a “well-funded, professionally orchestrated demonstration of support for privatization,” in an article in Salon.

Photo by Mary Frost

Photo by Mary Frost

Bronx Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo. Photo by Mary Frost

The Success Academy Dance Team. Photo by Mary Frost

An aerial view of the rally, showing the crowd as a sea of red. Photo by Shlomo Sprung

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