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NY: Don’t Keep NYC kids waiting in failed schools

New York Post, February 26, 2015
February 27, 2015

By Shea Reeder

In Albany on Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio said he should be held fully accountable for struggling schools, and that “by virtue of elections, the people get to act on their views.”

But so far, he has done nothing to fix this crisis, and no child in a failing school has three years to wait.

In fact, many parents are already voting — with their feet.

After decades of failing schools, parents are desperate for quality schools.

In my borough, The Bronx, applications for charter schools are the highest in the city.

As a mother, a teacher and a principal, I see the importance of good schools from a rare perspective. Indeed, it’s personal for me.

The Bronx has 149 chronically failing district schools; only 1 in every 10 Bronx students performs at grade level. More Bronx high-school students drop out than graduate with college-level skills.

For five years, I taught in a district school in the South Bronx. I found the experience disheartening at times — a lack of training held me back, and the curriculum wasn’t challenging.

I needed an environment where quality and excellence mattered. I needed to be pushed and I needed greater accountability for teachers, parents and administrators.

Then I found out about a local charter, Success Academy. I was blown away after one visit: I watched second-graders discuss literature in a way I’d never heard before. I was left speechless, but knew I had to be part of the great things that were happening there.

I thought I knew some things after five years in a district school classroom, but at Success I felt like I finally learned how to teach, and really teach well.

I learned how to study lessons and analyze text on a deeper level. I grew so much personally and professionally.

I became an assistant principal, with responsibility for student progress in several grades.

I met with teams of teachers twice a week to review upcoming lessons and curriculums. We reviewed student data to figure out how to meet the needs of hundreds of kids, and I gave constant feedback.

Now I’m a principal, and it’s my job to make sure all children in my school achieve at high levels.

My greatest partners are the parents; we keep them engaged through family nights and constant communication. I’m very proud of our school’s tight-knit family community.

I have first-graders who came from neighboring schools struggling with basic letters and sounds. After a year and a half of academic progress at our school, those children are doing math problems that most 6-year-olds can’t.

By setting high expectations, pushing them beyond the limits that the world places on them and holding parents accountable for doing what’s necessary at home, we’re helping these children succeed.

The parents see their children’s growth, and they’re pumped. When we tell them their kids will go to college, they now know it is possible.

I have the same high standards for my own children, so I entered my son in the lottery for third grade after my first year teaching at Success.

I was nervous because I knew the chances of getting in were slim — I know firsthand the pain of every parent who enters the lottery and has to wait.

He was wait-listed, and we had to sit tight all summer.

Finally, he was called a few days before school started, and within months, his life changed.

There was a clear difference from the start. He couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and go to class. Before, he hated math; after his first year at Success, he earned top marks on the state math exam.

As a parent, teacher and principal, I can’t imagine us anywhere else.

Everyone in our school community works hard to help children succeed — and, because of that accountability, we know no child will fall through the cracks.

There is such a desperate need for good schools, in The Bronx and all over the city. Every child deserves teachers who care about them, who put their interests first and will do whatever it takes to make sure they succeed.

It’s horribly wrong for the mayor to instead tell tens of thousands of children that they’ll just have to wait — and keep on suffering.

Shea Reeder is principal at Success Academy Bronx 4.