Story and photos by Mónica Barnkow
“My school was a disaster.”
Teacher Sierra Green did not mince words as she recalled her time attending what she said were failing schools in Brownsville as a child.
“It was so unfair,” she continued. “Because I grew up in Brownsville instead of Park Slope, I was treated as a second class citizen by New York City public schools.”
She would channel that frustration to be among the few in the neighborhood to graduate from college – and to become a teacher in her own right.
Green teaches science at Girls Prep, a Bronx all-girls charter middle school, and on October 21st, she joined with fellow charter school teachers from across the city at Foley Square to rally against what they say is persistent inequity in education.
“I want to teach kids in the Bronx so they can become engineers and doctors,” said Green.
Prior to teaching at Girls Prep, Green taught at a district school that was deemed failing.
It was wrong, insisted Green, for a student’s area code to be determinative of the resources she will be afforded to achieve her goals.
The rally was organized by Families for Excellent Schools (FES), which was founded in 2012 to grow the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools across the city, and to advocate for their expansion. Since its inception, FES has spent millions of dollars to advance the cause of charter schools, and has held well-organized rallies across the city.
The rally at Foley Square was no different.
Hundreds of teachers, wearing bright blue t-shirts that read “I teach to end inequality,” gathered to take the mic and voice their concerns that more needed to be done to expand charter school options.
The rally was part of a day-long series of events designed to draw attention – including an earlier press conference at City Hall, as well as a live DJ and free doughnuts.
While FES has often been criticized for its aggressive campaigning and opacity of its fundraising, many present said they were glad for the support.
Parent organizer Joe Herrera, a parent organizer, said it was time for the de Blasio administration to eliminate barriers for school choice.
He cited the growth of the charter school movement as proof that there is a clamor for the kind of services and programs they offer.
“These teachers are here to show that our movement continues to grow,” he said.
Green said she could remember feeling that very little was expected of her as an adolescent girl at school in a challenging neighborhood – and she said her previous teaching experience at a district school served to confirm that expectations remained low for students relegated to non-charter classrooms.
“[The children] have been told in these failing schools that that is where they stand,” she said. “And they go to school with a negative attitude.”
In charter schools, she said, the expectations for each student were higher and they received more support.
“It is quite different,” she argued. “The attitude and our expectations are different. It is about becoming college graduates.”
Ultimately, the goal was to improve the quality of all schools, whether district, charter, or private, she insisted.
“We need to stand for every kid in New York City,” she added. “We won’t stand any longer for separate, unequal schools.”