Op-Ed: Children just like mine deserve a choice and a voice in their education, Kearny parent says


In an editorial, Kearny parent Ana Simonelli explains why she feels children like her sons deserve a choice and a voice in their education.

Facebook photo.

Each day, I spend up to three hours in my car, driving my freshman son 45 minutes to school then 30 minutes to work. Then I have to leave work early and drive 30 minutes back to school to pick him up and 45 minutes home.

I make this choice because I believe the school he attends is the best option for him. It’s a choice I hope other parents don’t have to make.

My younger son attends Hudson Arts and Science Charter School in Kearny, New Jersey. It’s where my older son also attended grades three through eight. There is no high school option, which is why my boys are at different schools this year.

The school, students, and parents want to add grade levels; however, recently the acting commissioner of education denied the school’s request to expand along with six other charter schools.

Charter schools are often misunderstood and yet have somehow become politicized and polarizing. The truth is public charter schools have been around in New Jersey for 25 years and are an important part of the public-school system.

There are currently 87 public charter schools serving nearly 60,000 students in the state, with more than 20,000 students on waitlists.

Public charter and renaissance schools serve one in five public school students in New Jersey’s 31 poorest communities (former Abbott/SDA districts).

Charter schools serve 12 percent of all public school Black students and six percent of all public school Latino students.

All public charter schools in New Jersey are tuition-free public schools run by non-profit organizations open to all students, regardless of zip code, race/ethnicity, or ability level.

They are authorized by the New Jersey Department of Education and must apply to be renewed every five years. The department conducts a review of academic and financial accountability benchmarks to determine whether or not to renew.

Earlier this month, Governor Murphy stated that he supports high-quality top performing schools regardless of school type – charter, district, magnet, or private – and that “we want to educate kids the very best way possible in America.”

And, Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan and the New Jersey Department of Education approved 23 public charter schools for renewal allowing 10,000 students to remain at schools that are meeting their needs.

However, seven high-performing charter schools in Trenton, Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick and Kearny, including Hudson Arts & Science Charter School, were denied their expansion requests to serve additional students.

This action denies continuity of education for hundreds of students. Hudson wants to add grades 9-12. This would allow students, like my sons, to complete their high school experience at the same school.

I make the choice to drive every day so my son can attend a school that meets his needs. I wish there were a closer option but although our local school was good for our friends and neighbors, it wasn’t meeting my sons’ needs.

And that’s why I support Hudson’s expansion and ask the governor to reverse this decision. Like all parents, I am just trying to look out for the best interests of my children.

I also understand that other students have special needs and interest, which is why I hope the governor will grant all charter schools expansion plans.

The state should be there to help, not be a roadblock. We parents have made sacrifices and we will not stop fighting for our children.

Ana Simonelli lives in Kearny and is a parent of two sons.

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