At the beginning of this school year, I was—in my own way—a new student. I had just joined the team at Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and had newly returned to my home state from Chicago after six years. I felt, once again, those old pangs of anxiety. Would my new work be fulfilling? Would I fit in? Would my co-workers think me an asset to the team?
At the time, I had no idea how much I would re-learn the lesson I had written on. It has been a year of learning, growing, and reflecting. In my previous position at the University of Chicago, I was communications director for a charter school, but I also split time with a number of other programs including the STEP literacy assessment and the Urban Teacher Education Program. In Chicago—the 3rd largest school district in the country— education “reform” is a much larger enterprise and many shoulder the responsibility of fighting for its value. Here, in the smallest state in the nation, the fight falls to the few. It has been an adjustment to be at the center of so much emotion, controversy, and misunderstanding.
Yet, here, I have never been so humbled and inspired. Everyday, I’m moved by our mayoral academy families who have had to fight consistently in order to protect their public school choice. It’s not right. It’s not fair. I sometimes balk at the fact that I have to ask families—repeatedly—to take yet another moment away from their lives to stand up, testify, and show solidarity. Yet, so many of you do it with PRIDE. You do it with smiles and often, you do it with tears. Tears of frustration—“Please stop saying mayoral academies don’t accept students with special needs!” Tears of gratitude—“My daughter loves school now. She doesn’t want the summer to come!” Tears of joy—“ I believe in the mayoral academies with everything I have inside me. I have seen what it has done for my children and the four communities that we pull from.”
I have come to know you—some of you very well. I have come to know your stories, your hardships and your hopes. I relish in your children’s accomplishments as if they were my own daughter’s. We’re a community—a family and I feel privileged to be a part of it.
This year has taught me, more than ever, that anything worth having is worth fighting for. It has also reaffirmed that a worthwhile belief will cause you anxiety and struggle. And it should—or it’s too flimsy to believe in at all. School choice matters. I believe it. I’m willing to fight for it—though I hope we won’t have to fight forever.
My sincerest hope is that my BVP Musings next year will be filled with stories of more collaboration like the Central Falls District-Charter Compact; less “us versus them” and more “all of us;” less battling and more celebrating; and a mutual understanding that each and every one of us ultimately wants what’s best for kids. Until then, I wish you a restful summer (with lots of summer reading and a homework packet) and a 2014-15 school year with just enough anxiety to grow, and little enough to soak up the joy.