Not every (charter) school is the same: One parent’s perspective

Under public and state government scrutiny for its controversial leadership and MCAS doctoring by the principal and several teachers, Robert M. Hughes Charter School in Springfield may get its charter revoked (see Republican 12/14/09). As a parent, I empathize with the irate parents who feel outraged and betrayed, and I support their demands for recourse.

The media seems to be turning the Hughes Charter school controversy into a referendum on all charter schools. This is where, as a parent of a charter school eighth-grader, I must speak up. Just like all Springfield public schools are not the same, neither are the charter schools.

Yes, I proudly proclaim that I am a product of Springfield Public Schools–Classical High School class of 1985, to be exact. When I decided to move back to Springfield, my hometown, from Cambridge, MA with my son in the summer of 2004, I intentionally– and not accidentally–returned. First, during my graduate school years at Harvard from 1998-2004, I missed the sense of permanent community that Springfield offered me, especially now that I was and am a single parent. Second, I returned to Springfield with a purpose: to find concrete ways to give back to the community that was so instrumental in my academic and personal development from the time I was six months old, after my birth in Manati, Puerto Rico, through grade 12. In the meantime, as a proactive parent, I researched public schools and decided on one that, on the surface, appeared to be a good match for my academically high-achieving son.

A member of the SABIS network of charter schools.

Despite my best intentions, I was wrong and my son had to pay for it at one particular Springfield public school which, in his words, “didn’t respect my voice and made me feel like I was in prison.” Instead of fostering a joy for learning, this school was killing it in students. Nine years old at the time, my son said: “Mom, I have healthy self-esteem from home but at school, I feel bad because the teachers yell so much. What about some of the kids who don’t have healthy self-esteem and come to this school? I feel bad for them.”

When I brought my concerns to a meeting, the principal flatly responded: “We have to yell because a lot of these kids lack home schooling” and “If your son is not the one being yelled at, he should just shut up and mind his own business.” It’s no wonder that, at the time, I felt as if I had failed my son.

During that academic year, 2004-2005, Springfield parents were robbed of their say as the School Committee and the city decided to get rid of the school choice program for students and decided to reduce drastically school bus transportation for students in order to save money. All under the guise of creating neighborhood schools, which in reality has re-segregated Springfield public schools (a topic for another blog post).

I researched schools again. When I took a tour of the Holyoke Community Charter School, immediately I was struck by how welcoming the community was and how frank the principal was in both the school’s strengths and its current challenges as a fledgling charter school that accepted all children from its lottery system and did not simply hand-pick the “top” students to populate the school. When my son was called off the wait-list in the September of his fifth grade, I immediately bought his uniforms. Not once in the three years that my son has been attending HCCS have I regretted the decision nor the 200-mile-a-week commute from Springfield to Holyoke and back again. And neither has my son.

My advice to other parents: Hold administrators and teachers accountable by speaking up, speaking out, and documenting in writing both your praise and your areas of concern. Your voice matters and every child deserves a quality education, regardless of the type of school he or she attends.


One Response

  1. […] preparation, affiliation with Springfield Technical Community College, plans to contract with SABIS to operate […]

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