Monday, August 29, 2011

Amani Charter School

From Charles Stern, with an all-too-familiar story of a district trying to strangle a much-needed charter school. If you live in/near Westchester, please contact him:


My hope is to apprise your considerable email audience of a profound challenge to the ideals of education reform taking place just beyond the New York City border, in Westchester County.  This is also a call to action.

Some background – I have been involved with a group of parents, community members and experts to develop a charter school for Mount Vernon, New York.   The Amani Public Charter School was authorized by the New York State Education Department and, after two long years, will open at the end of this month with 80+ students in grade 5.  The school will add a grade each year and stop at grade 8. 

Mount Vernon is a small city just north of the Bronx, surrounded by wealthy suburbs in Westchester County.  The demographics of Mount Vernon's schools resemble communities in Harlem and the Bronx - 90% African American, with a high density of poverty.   The secondary schools are among New York State's lowest performing.  High school graduation hovers at 60%, and the large majority of 8th graders cannot perform grade level work in math or English Language Arts.

In March the Mount Vernon School District sued to block the charter school from opening.  They went so far as to request a temporary restraining order against the school's founder, Debra Stern, as well as a preliminary injunction against the school's operation - all in an attempt to shut down pre-opening activities including the school's admission lottery.  The case was filed in Westchester County and ultimately it was found that there was a need for a change of venue to Albany County.  The case remains in a holding pattern.  The court never granted the restraining order, and there's been no directive to stop anything.

A judge will take another look at the matter in October, at which point the school will have been open for some time.  Now, the Mount Vernon school board, in violation of state law, has refused to make charter school tuition payments to Amani, as well as to provide a medical director and nurse.  To recover the funding, the State Comptroller will intercept Mount Vernon's state aid and redirect funds straight to the charter school.  Recently we discovered that Amani students are receiving home visits from the district to verify residency.  It resembles Orwellian governance from a dark era.  It's all a direct attack on children.

Meanwhile, Amani has a great program, an excellent staff and 80+ young people ready to roll on August 29.  We've enjoyed very high participation consistently among our parents at school preparation events this summer. (See attached photo taken last week.)  Amani's board remains steadfast in its resolve to open strong and push through the hurdles.

Whitney, I know your messages are read by all kinds of people who have their heart set on making public education great.  We are looking for people who care about education and closing the achievement gap, perhaps living in or near Westchester County, New York, who might be interested in joining our board or becoming a friend of Amani in some other way.  With the help of your readers we can leverage this challenge into an opportunity to demonstrate that ed reform will not be stopped.  

Charles Stern

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