This is Part Five of an ongoing storytelling series by NJ Communities United featuring parents, students and families in Newark & Camden. Look for them Monday mornings. The school districts in these cities have been stripped of local democratic control, making it possible for privately-run corporations (and their non-profit front groups) to siphon taxpayer money from public schools. These stories underscore the realities of what it means for families to contend with corporate-driven policies on their children’s education. Promoted by Rosi.
Dava is the dedicated mother of four children, ages 6, 9, 15 and 17. Her oldest son is a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden. For most parents, the graduation of an oldest child is an exciting time – but Dava’s worried about what the future holds.
“The schools have not done right by my son,” says Dava, a member of NJ Communities United. “He’s a special needs student and suffers from multiple disabilities. He’s had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) since his first day in high school, and that plan called for one-on-one instruction, but that plan has never been followed. He can barely read or write and he’s not prepared for the world after graduation.”
An ‘Individualized Education Program, also called an “IEP,” is a document that is developed for each public school child who needs special education and is a standard in public schools across the country. Despite the failure of the Camden Public School system to adhere to the plan designed for her son, Dava does not blame the teachers or the public schools – instead she faults the powers that control the schools in Camden.
“My son has been pushed through school. They continue moving him to the next grade, regardless of his academics because the system is trying to get him out of the system,” says Dava. “I’ve spoken at the Board of Education. I’ve spoken to Paymon Rouhanifard (the Christie-appointed superintendent of Camden Public Schools). I’ve asked them where all the money has gone. I see all this money being put into expanding Renaissance schools, but there’s never any money for our public schools. Why are charter school chains a higher funding priority than the education of our children in public schools?”
As a parent of a special needs child, Dava is an active part of a community of other parents raising children with disabilities. Her community of parents have been concerned about how the school district prioritizes the education of their children against the drive to expand Renaissance schools across the city.Dava is very clear that:
“Renaissance schools aren’t helping – they’re hurting. The money meant for our public schools is being funneled to Renaissance schools. They’re building new Renaissance schools all over the city. Suddenly Camden has the money to build these new schools, have new books, tablets for all the students, and even air conditioning! My son has to share his books with other students because there isn’t enough money for students in traditional public schools. If there’s homework the teachers have to make photocopies. This isn’t right.”
When asked why she hasn’t enrolled her son in one of Camden’s new Renaissance schools, Dava says, “the charter schools don’t want students like my son.”
Dava is referring to what’s known as “creaming,” – a practice by corporate charter schools across the country that weeds out poor performing students in an effort to keep their overall academic outcomes higher when compared against traditional public schools.
Like most parents of special needs children, Dava has learned to fight and be an outspoken advocate. For her, this also means standing up against the Wall Street takeover of the public schools. She is part of a growing community of parents in Camden that are actively organizing and mobilizing parents against State-control and the expansion of corporate Renaissance schools in Camden. She was recently featured in a news story on Philly.com highlighting her efforts to collect signatures on a petition to save the historic Camden High School.
“My children don’t attend Camden High School, but it’s symbolic of what’s happening in our city and it’s important that we all stand together and fight. The Superintendent and the school board have promised that Camden High School will remain a public school, but I don’t believe them. They said that about the Lanning Square School in 2002. Guess what? It opened as the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy – a Renaissance school. This is not the first time they’ve lied to the students, to the teachers, to the parents and to the community. Their word cannot be trusted.”
Dava herself has collected more than 150 signatures on the petition to save Camden High School. Her efforts on this campaign are driven by several factors. She’s against tearing down historic buildings, especially when they’re schools and especially when it’s such an important part of Camden’s history. She wants to protect funding for traditional public schools. She wants to stand up for the public school teachers who have gone out of their way to care for her special needs son. And because she believes in the power of public schools – not Renaissance schools – to “do right” by kids.
“Nothing else should matter except the education of our children,” says Dava. “It should not be about profits or test scores, or anything else…it should be about preparing our chidlren for the world so they can get jobs or go to college when they graduate.”
New Jersey Communities United is a progressive grassroots community organization committed to building power for low and moderate income people across the State of New Jersey.