next steps

Terence Crutcher was a KIPP parent, and the charter school network urges action

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Leila Hadd
A KIPP school in the Bronx

A national charter network is urging its schools to take action this week to show support for the family of Terence Crutcher, the black man shot and killed this week by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Crutcher was the parent of a child at a KIPP charter school, the network’s leader told principals in a letter Wednesday morning.

“This is beyond a tragedy. It is an outrage,” KIPP CEO Richard Barth wrote. “While Mr. Crutcher’s death hits home in the KIPP community, it is part of a pattern of violence that has gone on across this country for far too long.”

Now, KIPP is asking its schools across the country to act in solidarity.

“This could involve releasing balloons, holding a moment of silence, posting on social media, or any other actions you see fit,” Barth wrote. “Take a public stand.”

A number of charter leaders have spoken publicly against the violence against black Americans that has fueled a wrenching national conversation about race in recent months. But since June, when multiple shootings heightened the conversation, both a coalition of Black Lives Matter groups and the NAACP came out against the publicly funded but privately managed schools.

Those moves drove away at least one prominent supporter, a Black Lives Matter leader and charter school advocate in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a school worker was killed by a police officer in June.

But Barth’s message suggests that he is sticking by both the movement and the nonprofit. While he does not mention Black Lives Matter by name in his letter, he emphasizes the idea central to the movement: “For many of our KIPP families and students, the threat of police violence is a constant worry. There is a very real sense that no place is safe for black and brown bodies.”

He also vows to support the NAACP’s Pledge to Protect and Preserve Our Lives, a call to cut funding to police departments shown to discriminate and to create a system to review police shootings.

Here is the full letter:

Dear KIPP Team and Family,

By now, many of you have heard about Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African American male who was fatally shot by police in Tulsa, OK on Friday. As news outlets have reported, Mr. Crutcher was a beloved father and brother, a college student, and a singer in his church choir.

What you may not know is that Mr. Crutcher was also a KIPP Tulsa parent.

This is beyond a tragedy. It is an outrage. While Mr. Crutcher’s death hits home in the KIPP community, it is part of a pattern of violence that has gone on across this country for far too long. In my view, this is about fear – the senseless killing that can result from fear. Fear is what makes a police officer discharge their firearm on an unarmed person. And if a police officer is that fearful, they either need more training or they should not be a law enforcement officer. Full stop. We must demand this, for fear cripples us – all of us. For many of our KIPP families and students, the threat of police violence is a constant worry. There is a very real sense that no place is safe for black and brown bodies.

Before I share some thoughts on our collective response, I want to share a quick update on KIPP Tulsa. There are grief counselors on campus this week, and staff from the KIPP Foundation and KIPP Oklahoma City are on hand to lend support. School staff met this morning to start processing their reactions, and tomorrow students will read and talk about an adapted version of a CNN article. On Friday the school community will gather on the lawn and release balloons in a show of solidarity with the Crutcher family.

Andrew McCrae, our fearless leader of KIPP Tulsa wants to thank all of the members of our nationwide KIPP team and family who have reached out in support. If you would like to reach out to the school, please contact KIPP Foundation Senior Relationship Manager Quinton Vance at [email protected]

Now, for how we can harness the power of the KIPP community (and our own personal influence, for those of us in positions of privilege.) In my opening remarks at KSS 2016, I said that we need make this part of the fabric of our work—to engage with it every day. Part of that is showing up on issues of social justice, of equity, and of equality.

In that spirit, I ask all of you to consider two things:

Act in solidarity with KIPP Tulsa this Friday, September 23. This could involve releasing balloons, holding a moment of silence, posting on social media, or any other actions you see fit.

This is a systemic issue and will require public officials stepping up and promising to protect black lives. I support NAACP’s Pledge to Protect and Preserve Our Lives. Will you support it? What will you do? [This paragraph is an updated one from a version posted on KIPP’s website.]

And I would like to repeat what I said at KSS, and what I shared last week: get out and vote. And join the 12 KIPP regions hosting voter drives to get others to vote. If we don’t like something in America, we need to exercise our right to change it with our vote.

As a Team and Family, we laugh and we cry together. We live and we learn together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And we show up for each other, and with each other. KIPP is about learning and growing, moving toward a better world. We use education and schools to accomplish that lofty aim. And to do that, we must advocate to create safe and secure environments for our students to develop, and to achieve the better world we all want to see.

Onward,
Richard

family affair

How are Success Academy families responding to the network’s leadership drama?

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Wynter Johnson and Serenity Ally, two third-grade students at Success Academy Harlem 2

The past two weeks have been more than a little rocky for Success Academy.

Board chairman Daniel Loeb is in hot water over a racial comment he made on Facebook, a controversy amplified by last weekend’s events in Charlottesville. At a protest Monday, other political leaders rallied around his target, state Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The state’s top two education officials called out Loeb this week, as did former schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

And Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, who had previously said she was amenable to working with President Donald Trump, apologized in the wake of his actions this week for not being “more outspoken” about her disagreements with him.

So, how are the families of Success Academy reacting to all the news? The question is particularly poignant since about 93 percent of Success Academy students are children of color.

In Harlem on Thursday afternoon, students’ parents and family members said their reaction boiled down to one thing: Does this affect my child?

Jasmine Holst, for instance, who has a daughter in third grade at the Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen, said she doesn’t always agree with Moskowitz, but that does not change the way she feels about her daughter’s school.

“I’m not going to let her personal opinions affect my daughter’s education at the end of the day,” Holst said.

Others were quick to point out their own positive experiences with Success Academy staff. I haven’t “seen any racism from the teachers” at Success Academy Harlem 1, said Coco Rhymes, who has a daughter in third grade there.

Though she said Loeb should apologize for his comments, she also said she would not consider sending her child back to a traditional public school.

“She’s been to public schools and woo, that was really bad,” Rhymes said.

Many of the parents and family members Chalkbeat interviewed had not heard about the comment made by Loeb — who said that Stewart-Cousins, an African American, had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”

“Fortunately, this hasn’t spewed into the school setting,” said Jasmine Alhyani, who has a daughter at Success Academy Harlem 1 and another at Success Academy Harlem West. “I hope it stays at the top.”

When she did hear, Alhyani said Loeb should send a personal apology to parents and students at the school. (Loeb has since deleted the post and publicly apologized.)

Others thought an apology wasn’t quite enough. While at the playground, watching her third-grade cousins who attend Success Academy Harlem 2, Danielle Lucas said Loeb should be forced to leave the board.

“We don’t want our kids to grow up thinking we’re in the old days,” Lucas said. “I think he should be on suspension until they find a better qualified person to run it. Action needs to be taken.”

Parents also bristled — to varying degrees — over Moskowitz’s previous relationship with the Trump administration. Tina Thompson, who has a daughter at Success Academy Harlem 1, said she was at her daughter’s school the day Ivanka Trump came for a tour.

Thompson said unless Ivanka Trump plans to assist the school, she should not have visited.

“It is inappropriate, unless she helps,” Thompson said.

She hadn’t read Moskowitz’s letter about Trump in its entirety, but agreed with the sentiment. “She should have been distancing herself since the beginning,” she said.

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.