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Harlem impresario enters fraught charter school political scene

Lopez-Pierre, center, and his family, in a photo sent out in the new PAC's introductory emails. A Harlem realtor known for founding a controversial social club and playing a role in a high-profile loan dispute is now entering the world of charter school politics. Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a charter school parent, thinks Harlem's political leaders don't sufficiently support the charter schools that dot their districts. So he has formed a political action committee to help finance candidates who would. The committee, called the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC, made its debut this week in a letter to charter school advocates outlining its political goals: to raise $250,000 over the next year to support candidates in Harlem's three 2012 City Council races and local Democratic Party district leader races. The group also said it would find volunteers to help those candidates get out the vote. Lopez-Pierre, whose son is finishing first grade at Harlem's New York French American Charter School, said he and two other parents aim to create a new unified voice for parents in a community that has served as the front line of the political wars over charter school expansion. (Lopez-Pierre declined to name the other parents but said their children attend Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy and one of the Harlem Success Academy charter schools.) "Elected officials only respond to two things: votes and money. Our goal is to elect officials that support charter schools," he said. "My son is in first grade, and he's going to be in a charter school for at least 10 years. This is not about an election cycle. It's about transforming Harlem and expanding school choice."
New York

Charter supporters seek kindred spirit to succeed Bloomberg

A screen shot of the web site registered 9 days ago that touts Eva Moskowitz for mayor in its title. Two websites registered recently — one earlier this month — raise an intriguing possibility: Could a charter school leader jump into the next mayoral race? The website addresses tout Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Charter network, and Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy charter schools, for mayor. Neither site includes any content. The websites, EvaMoskowitzForMayor.com and GeoffreyCanadaForMayor.com, might reflect mounting concern among charter school supporters that Mayor Bloomberg's successor will not continue his level of support for charter schools. The nervousness may have increased when Anthony Weiner resigned from Congress last week. Of all the likely mayoral candidates, Weiner had appeared to be one of the more supportive of charter schools. "Personally, as a New Yorker, Bloomberg's successor has weighed heavily on my mind," Democracy Prep charter network founder Seth Andrew, who registered the URL touting Canada in December, said in an e-mail statement. "While I think Mr. Canada would be a great choice, we've never talked about it and he's made it publicly clear that he loves his day job." Andrew used his personal email and mailing addresses to register the Canada site. EvaMoskowitzForMayor.com was registered anonymously through a hosting service based in California on June 6, according to WhoIs.Net, which publishes records of web site registrations. Responding to a request for comment by e-mail, a spokesperson for Moskowitz said that she had never heard of the domain. "Looked into it. Don't know anything about this domain. Let me know if you find out who bought it," Jenny Sedlis, the director of external affairs at Moskowitz's charter network, wrote via e-mail.
New York

In Harlem, charter school parents and students target NAACP

Students and families protested today in Harlem against the NAACP's involvement in a lawsuit against school closures and charter school co-locations with district schools. (Chris Arp) About 2,500 people rallied in Harlem this morning, calling on the NAACP to withdraw from its lawsuit with the teachers union against the city Department of Education. That lawsuit seeks to stop the closure of 22 schools as well as the placement of several charter schools in district school space. Speakers at Thursday’s rally included charter school parents and teachers, Harlem Children's Zone president and CEO Geoffrey Canada, and the actor Seth Gilliam from “The Wire,” whose child is a on a waiting list for a charter school. Speakers and attendees denounced the NAACP’s participation in a lawsuit they said would harm charter schools primarily serving students of color. "Ms. Dukes, turn your back on this lawsuit,” said Kathy Kernizan, the parent of a student at the Uncommon Schools charter network, referring to Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference. A letter to Dukes with signatures from charter school advocates was circulated through the crowd asking the organization to withdraw from the suit. A spokesperson for the New York City Charter Center, which helped organize the event, said that more than 2,000 signatures had been collected this week. “We gotta demand quality education,” Canada told the crowd. “We have to be prepared to fight for that.” The city Department of Education's proposal calls for two of the charter schools associated with the Harlem Children's Zone, the Promise Academy charter schools, to be co-located inside district schools. The charter center spokesperson said the protest, held outside the Harlem State Office building at 125th Street, was not the work of any one organization. But at least two groups appear to have taken leading roles: the charter center, an advocacy and support organization for charter schools in the city, and the Success Charter Network created by Eva Moskowitz. Many of the families at the rally had children at one of the Success network's nine schools. (Seven of the network's schools are named in the lawsuit.) Click here for a slideshow of photographs from the rally.