BY JOSE ROSARIO
I’m tired. And it’s not because being a public school principal is an intense job. It certainly is that — like so many public school principals in America, I work around the clock. But I love being the principal of Success Academy Far Rockaway. Laughing with my kids and watching them flourish and fulfill their potential as readers and writers, dancers and chess players, scientists and artists, makes the hours of each day fly by.
No. I’m tired because since the start of this school year, I have been helping my fourth-grade scholars and their families cope with the almost unbelievable reality that they may be forced to leave the school they love because Mayor de Blasio won’t provide them with adequate space for a middle school, even though there are district buildings that could share space because they are under-utilized.
Parents from my school and three other Success Academies in Queens have been waiting for a permanent space for a middle school for three years. Success made the initial request in January 2017, and since then parents have been patient and cooperative, even as the city repeatedly reneged on its promise to provide a solution. Now, these parents are facing the imminent eviction of their fourth-graders: Success Academy middle school starts in fifth grade, there are less than six months left of the school year, and their children have nowhere to go.
Supporting my families as they face this looming threat is draining, particularly because I have an acute understanding of what’s at stake. I grew up in Washington Heights, sharing a one-bedroom apartment with my mother and two siblings. I didn’t have access to many resources, let alone a top-tier education. I was able to make it through high school and on to college thanks to my mother’s unflagging support and the strong value for education she instilled in me. But it should have been so much easier — and it would have been, if I had attended a school like Success Academy.
I have watched Far Rockaway parents move from palpable anxiety to deep anger. They see the tremendous opportunities that Success Academy middle and high schools provide for kids: Advanced Placement courses and extracurriculars in the high school, where students are acing the SATs and gaining acceptance — and generous financial aid packages — to top colleges. They see a middle school experience just out of reach, where their kids would be known, loved and supported, where they would have access to great programs in sports, debate, chess and art, where they would take — and excel in — three high-school Regents courses by the end of eighth grade.
And they see the possible alternatives, reflected in the community around them. Only one in three adults in Queens have completed college. They want something different for their kids, and that’s why they chose Success Academy Far Rockaway: to make sure a path to college would be opened.
The deepest source of their anger is the fact that this problem has a straightforward solution. There are six public school buildings in this part of Queens, each with 400 to 1,000 empty seats. They know that Mayor de Blasio is dodging his responsibility by hiding behind the widespread misperception that co-location poses a burden on existing schools. The reality is that two-thirds of all public schools in New York City are co-located — in most cases, it is either utterly unnoticeable or actually beneficial.
Take the co-location in my building, for example. As participants in the NYC DoE’s District-Charter Partnership initiative, we share professional development opportunities so that educators in all our schools benefit. And we are a community: We just enjoyed a building-wide Halloween celebration. Far from being burdened, our co-located district schools are thriving. Since Success Academy opened four years ago, both district schools have experienced a rise in enrollment and test scores — a trend that research has found to be the rule rather than the exception for district schools co-located with charters.
Each day, as I contemplate the mayor’s cynical obstruction, I think of my fourth-graders. They are some of the hardest-working kids I have ever met. They truly love to read — half the time I have to tell them to keep their noses out of a book! They are also really, really funny — I regularly find myself laughing on the way home as I think about what they did or said that day. And finally, they are some of the best singers and dancers I’ve ever seen. I have a high bar for singing and dancing — but they make me feel like I have two left feet.
These kids are amazing. They deserve everything. But day after day, the mayor gives them nothing.
Wouldn’t that make you tired?
Jose Rosario is the principal of Success Academy Far Rockaway.