This past Sunday, my family and I celebrated Father’s Day.
This moment every year is especially important to me because, like many who were born in Newark, I am an individual who is fatherless. I never met him. He was long gone before I ever came into this world. As a result, I am a product of the foster-care system and group homes, and I was a troubled kid.
Eventually I spent six years in prison. There are times I think back to those initial years and feel lucky to be alive. Frankly, I should be dead.
Every day, not just Father’s Day, is a moment of reflection for me. Without a father in my life, I have made many misguided steps that cost me a great deal in my life. Now, as a proud father, I know firsthand the impact I have on my children. It has been my mission in life to break the pattern that started with me. I know my involvement in their lives and the decisions I make for them is meaningful and powerful.
As a father of four, part of this is making sure they’re getting a quality education. We first began exploring Newark’s public charter schools because of a simple science question I posed to my daughter, who at the time was attending a district school in Newark and was supposedly a top student, receiving all A’s. I was shocked to find out, when asked at age 10, she was unable to name any of the planets in our solar system. I did some digging and found out that she was not learning any science or history because the district school she was attending did not have teachers that taught either of those subjects. Instead of providing my child with an education, this Newark school just simply took those classes and put substitute teacher in the class for the school year. Practically taking these subjects out of her curriculum and replaced them with straight A’s. In any suburb outside of Newark this would be unconscionable, but in the city where many parents are fighting these kinds of an uphill battles every day, it has become far too common.
Financially unable to move to a town like Maplewood or attend a private school, getting into a Newark public charter school was the only option to ensure that my kids received the education they deserve. We had no other choice and I am shattered by the idea that those with their own political and financial agendas are now trying to enforce their value systems on my family.
If we were to believe the critics of public charter schools, I would be singled out as a parent misinformed and misled by charter schools. I am not a parent misinformed, misled, or hoodwinked. I am a parent who supports schools that will provide my children with a quality education.
From their experience at KIPP New Jersey’s Thrive Academy, my kids have received social and emotional development and a high level of critical thinking. Now one of my kids is college-bound, and my two twins are now tracking to attend college -- something the great majority of students in a Newark district school can’t say.
I understand the political realities. There are some who do not live in Newark and do not truly understand the issue. There are others who are waging this battle against me and my kids, defending the status quo at all cost, because they have a personal and direct financial gain.
But what should not be lost on any of us is that there actually is no “charter vs. public school” debate in New Jersey. For the vast majority of parents, like me, public charter schools have become mainstream and the needed solution.
This is why tens of thousands of parents in New Jersey are hoping to enroll their children in a charter school this year. It is the reason the Newark City Council made the unprecedented move of voting against a piece of current state legislation that would cripple public charter schools in New Jersey. Public charter schools work. They have become a thriving part of New Jersey’s public school system.
I am a father using the tough experience I learned as a child to be the best father I can be. Even the moments I have regretted have proved to be valuable in my role as a father. Dads do not make decisions based on political campaign contributions or because their paycheck is tied to defending the status quo; we simply do what is best for our kids. New Jersey’s public charter schools have served us well. And the best thing we can do for families like mine is provide more opportunity, not limit it.