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When a developer announced that he was planning to build a multiplex cinema on an underdeveloped lot on Merrick Boulevard, Cynthia Jenkins vigorously opposed the theater. She argued that the community would prefer to see a new school built in the same space.
Later, when members of the "community" applied to open a charter school for at-risk students in southeast Queens, Ms. Jenkins opposed it because, she said, "we do not want any charter schools in the control of elected politicians." The operative word here, we assume, is "elected." Ms. Jenkins, of course, is an unelected official. In fact, at the very moment when the state Board of Regents was reviewing her letter opposing the charter school, the former assemblywoman was fighting to get her name on the ballot in the special election for state senator. Talk about chutzpa.
Ms. Jenkins is wrong again. Southeast Queens is in desperate need of charter schools such as the proposed Merrick Academy-Springfield Gardens Charter School. The charter schools offer families of limited means a chance to become actively involved in the education of their children. Each year thousands of parents in southeast Queens opt to send their children to private schools. Although this often requires significant sacrifice, they do it because they believe their children will be getting a better education. But for other parents private schools are not an option.
The state Education Department said it was rejecting the Merrick Academy because of letters claiming that the school would be built on an unsafe site and that there had been a lack of community input. The fact that the state took these letters seriously does not inspire confidence. The academy would be run by Victory Schools, which already runs charter schools in Harlem. The board of directors for Victory Schools includes: U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton). Ms. Jenkins may have her differences with Watkins and Meeks, but she cannot claim that their presence on the board does not represent substantial community input. It is even more ludicrous for her to oppose the school because the two board members are "elected officials."
Unlike the schools run by the Board of Education, the charter schools cannot survive without community support. No charter school can continue to exist if it is not responsive to the parents of it students. Ms. Jenkins says in her letter that she wants schools to have "policy set by educators." Arguably, that's what we have in the Board of Education schools. If the "community" was satisfied with that, the support for the charter schools would not be as overwhelming.
At the risk of appearing cynical, it occurs to us that Jenkins may have sent the letter to bolster support with the powerful United Federation of Teachers at a time when she was struggling to once again become an elected official.
Truth is we can't see how anyone who cares about the welfare of the children of New York can fail to see the value of the charter schools. Are they so satisfied with the public school system? Why shouldn't there be an affordable alternative for parents who are not enamored with the bureaucracy at 110 Livingston St.? The charter schools can try new approaches to education, giving parents the option of choosing the type of school that is best for their child.
Our guess is that the charter schools will be the wave of the future - just like multiplex cinemas. We hate to think the children of southeast Queens will be deprived of the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of educational change because of a politician who doesn't trust politicians.
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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