Why Parents Want Options: It is time to Highlight Real Issues in our System

I once attended a panel in Los Angeles where members of the community came together to hear from public charter school folks. A parent on the panel shared her experience in having her child attend a public charter school in her community.

At some point she thought her son might not make it out from drugs and gang violence in her neighborhood. She expressed her immense gratitude towards the “white man” who decided to found a public charter school in her community because according to her, it changed her son’s trajectory.

A question from the crowd was somewhere along the lines of, “How can you support such school? A school that was founded by a white man who has no ties to our community.” They were referring to the White Savior Complex — the term refers to an idea in which a white person helps or rescues people of color from their situations which is perceived as self-serving.

I remember her expression and the tears in her eyes as she replied angrily, “I don’t care if he was purple! What he did for my son, my family and my community is something that no other school in my district could have ever done. And for that I will always be grateful!”

I personally do not believe that charter school growth can solve the deep rooted issues in our public school system alone. In fact, the California Charter School’s Act was never meant for charter school takeover. But the current system has failed students for so many years, and parents are not conforming to that at all. Until traditional district schools stop failing young black and brown children, parents will continue to advocate for high quality education and will demand more options that will give their students the education that their children deserve.

In my experience working with families in East Los Angeles, East Side San Jose, West Oakland and the Bayview in San Francisco among other communities, there is one common theme I hear from parents when I ask them why they chose to send their children to a charter school. Their personal experience at their local district school had forced them to look for better options to ensure their children had a better education.

A few things I would like to see in ALL schools in California:

  • Accountability: How are we ensuring that all school leaders and teachers are being held accountable for student success and outcomes? Are funds being used to improve student’s educational experience?
  • Funding important programs that support our low income families including but not limited to: early educational programs, health care and mental health care resources, food and social services, etc.
  • Professional development for teachers: We need to ensure that teachers are growing and learning new and innovative ways to teach our children, specifically in low income communities, where trauma is a big factor for children being able to fully focus and learn in class every day.
  • Parent education programs: families learn and understand the public education system and how they can best support their students at home. These programs would build bridges between the village that supports and raises our children. Teachers and families should work closer together to ensure the success of all of our students, creating structures and avenues for this could really make a difference.

Until school districts start focusing on how to improve our current schools or create a new system that is inclusive of all students, we will continue to see parents and community members advocating for better options and high quality options in the most vulnerable communities.

What do you think?

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Melissa Albarenga

Melissa Albarenga

Melissa Albarenga, raised in East Los Angeles by her single mother and older siblings. She graduated from James A. Garfield High School and received her Bachelor's degree in Chicana/o Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013. She currently works at KIPP Bay Area Schools as the Community Engagement Manager and provides families with the resources and tools they need to advocate for their children’s education and other important local initiatives. Through her work she hopes to activate power within each parent and/or guardian. Her ultimate dream is that all children will have access to high quality education no matter what zip code they live in.

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