The proposed Destine Preparatory K-5 charter school faced push back from Schenectady community members during a public forum Wednesday night as the proposed school founder and members of the charter’s board took their case to district residents.
A handful of city residents, including district educators, argued the focus should be on how best to improve the city district, which served nearly 10,000 students, and not the creation of a new school that at its peak will serve around 400 students. Charter detractors also made the case that a charter school would drain resources from the City School District and was “anti-democratic” because its school board is not publicly elected.”
“They are essentially a leech on the resources of the community, they exist totally out of any public control,” Samuel Rose, a candidate for the Schenectady school board, said of the charter school proposal.
But members of the proposed charter’s new board countered that community residents long for new academic options in the city and that the district has failed many of its students and families. Raysheea Turner – a Schenectady High School graduate, an attorney in Schenectady County and proposed chairperson of the new charter school’s board – said she didn’t receive the level of support she needed as a student in the district and fears the same thing would happen to her children if they attended district schools. She said she has already experienced poor communication after reaching out about basic questions for her children.
“This has been an ongoing issue for a long time. It’s not about stating that Schenectady schools are no good, it’s about giving students a choice,” Turner said. “If Schenectady public schools wanted it to be about the children and make it better, that’s what they would have done a long time ago.”
The proposed school’s proponents, including founder Re’Shawn Rogers, largely made the case that the Schenectady City School District over the decades have failed to improve academic outcomes, particularly for Black and brown students, and families should simply have another option to choose. They pointed to families who already send their children to charter schools in Albany or Troy or have moved out of the city all together so their kids could attend school in a different district.
“This is unacceptable,” said Rogers, a Detroit native and former Brooklyn charter school educator who moved to the Capital Region last year as part of fellowship to establish a new school. “We shouldn’t be losing the residents of the city because there are not enough alternative, free options available.”
City resident Bill McColl said charter schools are inherently “anti-democratic” and “anti-union,” noting board members for the charter would not be publicly elected and alluding to the lack of labor and union protections that permeate traditional public schools in the state.
“Even though public funds are used, the board is not publicly elected,” he said. “It’s a very bad situation.”
Karen Lewis, a Schenectady teacher and chairperson of the Schenectady County NAACP education committee, said the NAACP opposes schools and argued on behalf of the educators in the city schools dedicated to the city’s students. Oriana Miles, a Schenectady High School graduate and now English teacher, said: “It’s hard for me to say instead of fixing where we are that serves a huge population, we instead move over to this new thing that is for a small number of people. Because I want all of my community to be served and that in my mind is a public school system needs to be fixed.”
Cherly Lane, a local accountant and another member of the proposed charter school’s board, said it is frustrating as a parent to have so few choices in the kind of education available to her children. The lack of options, she said, is forcing some families to leave.
“As we speak today, there are parents that are frustrated, and they are coming out of the district as we speak today, because they don’t have choices,” Lane said.
Neimra Coulibaly, a Schenectady High School graduate, said she tended to agree with the argument that the focus should be on improving the city’s existing public schools.
“What’s stopping the school district we have already from being the best it can be and why aren’t we more focused on fixing that,” Coulibaly said.
But, in a summary of the forum’s overall discussion, she also pointed out that the proposal for a charter school was an indication of frustration in the community that the district must work to address.
“How can the school district step its game up, so these people don’t have to be leeching off of us … clearly we aren’t doing enough and it’s been for years,” she said. “I want to know a 10-step plan of what the school district is going to do to prove to parents this going to be a better choice than a charter school, because y’all are losing right now.”