LIBN: Gerstman: Start school choice in Brentwood


By Brad Gerstman

What is a charter school? How does it work? Why would we want one? These are just a few of the questions hundreds of Long Island parents are beginning to contemplate as the debated subject of charter schools continues to make waves throughout Long Island.

Statewide, New York has become home to hundreds of tuition-free public schools created through community members in favor of school choice. Charter schools exist through five-year contracts that require heightened student achievement in order to maintain a license to exist.

Unlike traditional public education institutions, charter schools are only bound to comply with health, safety, special education and civil rights laws. Thus, they are free to develop curriculum and educational standards that are unique to both the environment in which they are located and the children they are serving. Accountability is ensured through state testing and the constant reality of a potential loss of licensing.

The Town of Brentwood may potentially become home to one of only a handful of charter schools here on Long Island. As a community, the Brentwood Union Free School District maintains a student population comprised of 75 percent Hispanic and/or Latino children. According to the New York State District Report Card for the 2010-2011 school year, this large demographic of children did not make adequate yearly progress in English Language Arts at the secondary level. District report cards are used statewide to provide public communities with the condition of schools within a district. Through a number of considerations including academic performance, state and federal accountability, and overall district accomplishment, report cards speak to the success of both districts themselves and the students that attend each facility. Assuming that the demographics of Brentwood Union Free School District have not changed considerably since the 2010-2011 school year, it is safe to contend that change is necessary.

It is a tragic reality that a group of children that encompasses approximately three-fourths of the entire student population from the Brentwood school district are suffering an inability to adequately progress in English Language Arts. A charter school may provide the community with the tools necessary to mend these problems, and help children who are otherwise finding themselves hopelessly unable to excel. The Dignitas Academy Charter School hopes to establish itself as the first English Language Learner School in the area. Unlike the Brentwood Union Free School District, Dignitas will not be allowed to fail. With an emphasis on learning the English language, the specialized curriculum provided by Dignitas will allow for struggling children to understand what they are expected to learn.

Dignitas Academy Charter School values the cultural roots that have shaped the community of Brentwood, and will be skillful in supporting each child to maintain those essential cultural ties while concurrently developing an enhanced grasp of the English language. It is undoubtedly evident that a vast majority of English language learners struggle within the Brentwood district to obtain an education. Hundreds of community members have expressed an interest in school choice that would provide students in the area with the necessary skills to truly achieve.

So the question remains, what is it about Long Island that has left the underprivileged communities with nowhere to turn for assistance?

Regardless of the stereotype, we do have a number of underperforming school districts, such as Brentwood, in which English continues to remain a second language. Charter schools are the solution. Where traditional public education has failed, these specialized institutions can provide aid to those struggling with language barriers and/or inadequate resources.

Our metropolitan neighbors have shown us that change in the system can provide positive results for the future. Just as charter schools have succeeded throughout Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, they too can help here.

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