When Khari Shabazz, principal of Success Academy Harlem West, heard that the NAACP passed a resolution to curb charter school growth, he called a meeting with his teachers.
“In my school, I just brought them together. I gave them news reports if they hadn’t seen it already. I asked them to take a look at that, just read it, quietly, and then we shared,” Shabazz said. “We had a conversation. We talked about it.”
During that conversation, Shabazz said, his teachers expressed confusion. They could not understand why, after working to help educate so many students of color, they were being admonished by the NAACP, he said.
That was a common sentiment at a Wednesday afternoon rally in Foley Square for charter school teachers, principals and staff, organized by the pro-charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools. Like Shabazz, other school leaders and teachers felt compelled to facilitate either formal or informal conversations about the NAACP’s resolution.
The NAACP called for the moratorium last weekend, arguing charter schools expel too many students and “perpetuate de facto segregation” by catering to higher-performing children. Those arguments have long been made by the teachers union, which quickly praised the NAACP’s decision.
Success Academy, the largest charter network in New York City, came under fire last year after one principal was found with a “Got to Go” list featuring students’ names.
The NAACP’s decision drew criticism from the editorial boards of several major news outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. But on Wednesday night, Cornell Brooks, president of the NAACP, stood by the organization’s decision, saying, “We will do what we have to do.”
That is both distressing and personal to Kiah Hufane, principal at Success Academy Harlem Central.
“I grew up with family who talked about the NAACP as the next great hope for African-Americans during the civil rights movement,” she said, “and to have this organization speak for me is really just downright offensive.”
The news was distressing enough to her, she said, that she felt it necessary to have a school-wide discussion about it, which she characterized as “a hard conversation to have with my staff.” One of her main concerns is that the NAACP’s actions will cause a withdrawal of public support for charter schools. In cities other than New York, she fears it could significantly slow charter school growth.
Others say that while the NAACP’s position is upsetting, it won’t cause a tangible difference for charter schools.
“Although it makes me sad — and maybe I’m being naive — it doesn’t really worry me that much,” said Katherine Genao, a teacher at Success Academy Bronx II. “While there are people opposed, there are more and more people who are rallying for us.”
(Most teachers and staff approached by Chalkbeat declined to answer questions, but the organizers made certain attendees available to the press.)
Jacob Mnookin, executive director at Coney Island Prep, argued his own experience speaks louder than the NAACP’s criticisms.
“We haven’t talked a lot about it as a school,” Mnookin said. “We have over 2,000 families on our waiting list, and I think it’s unfortunate and sad for an organization like the NAACP with such a storied history to tell families that desperately want a better choice like that for their children, that they shouldn’t have that.”