PARK SLOPE — About 25,000 parents, kids and teachers who want to double the number of charter school students citywide rallied in Prospect Park on Wednesday, organizers said.
Dubbed the Path to Possible, the march drew families from 150 schools in all five boroughs, according to Families for Excellent Schools which hosted the event and has led the charge to expand the charter school population to 200,000 students by the year 2020.
"New York City’s public charter schools are changing lives from Staten Island to the South Bronx, but parents will not rest until every child can access the path to possible,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools.
The group argues that allowing charter schools to flourish will close the racial achievement gap and boost academic performance in "failing" school districts in neighborhoods such as Brownsville and Bed-Stuy, where local education leaders complained earlier this year that too many charter schools were opening.
The state controls the number of charter schools allowed to open in the city — 50 new ones will be allowed this year, up from 25 the year before.
Parent Jacqueline Shaulis attended the rally with her 7-year-old son Elijah, a student at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 2.
"We wanted to show strength in numbers for quality education," Shaulis said. "We wanted to make it really clear there's a need for more charters, it's not just a passing fad."
Shaulis lives in Sunnyside, Queens, which means her son commutes nearly an hour to school. Other families at his school trek from the Bronx or Staten Island to arrive by the 7:30 a.m. start time, she said.
Shaulis' son is an advanced student who needed a rigorous learning environment, something her local zoned school didn't provide, she said.
She also tried a Montessori school, but that wasn't a good fit either, and Elijah would sometimes cry when it was time to go to school.
While she had heard negative stories about Success Academy schools being "rigid and dogmatic" before her son attended, the school was nothing like that, she said, and her son has thrived there.
"He's so excited to go to school and proud to say he's a successful scholar," Shaulis said, adding that Elijah is already excited about college.
Charters now educate roughly 100,000 students citywide, or 10 percent of New York City's student population, according to Families for Excellent Schools.
United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said in a City & State editorial on Wednesday that charter advocates' complaints about a lack of space for their schools don't ring true. Mulgrew contended that less successful students often leave charter schools, but that their empty seats remain unfilled.
"[A]s the number of struggling students goes down, the average reading and math scores of each class presumably go up, and charter cheerleaders can point to their 'success,'" Mulgrew wrote.