It starts by being able to hire and fire the right teachers
- Last Updated: 11:45 PM, June 2, 2012
- Posted: 10:17 PM, June 2, 2012
Born to Rise
A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential
by Deborah Kenny, founder
and CEO of Harlem Village Academies
When Deborah Kenny heard about the more than 50,000 families citywide placed on charter-school waiting lists for the 2010-11 school year, she was “furious.”
The thought that many politicians still want to cap the number of charter schools (which are public but operate independently from the New York City Department of Education), she says, is “immoral.”
The unions that stand in the way of reform are doing a “tremendous disservice by protecting the lowest common denominator.”
Strong words, yes, but then again Kenny is no ordinary education reformer. She’s been called a “revolutionary” and a “radical.” She was honored as a the “Educator of the Year” in 2006 by Joel Klein and was featured in Oprah’s “Power Issue” in 2010. When President George W. Bush visited her school in 2007, he commented that “schools everywhere should follow” her example.
In one decade alone, Kenny has opened a network of five charter schools called Harlem Village Academies. HVA’s eighth grade is ranked No. 1 in Harlem for reading and math; 96% of her high-school students graduate in four years; and her eighth-graders were the first Harlem class in history to achieve 100% math proficiency.
This has been accomplished while never spending above the city’s district school allocated cost per student, she says, which was $19,000 in 2011.
What’s more is that these are not handpicked students. They are chosen from a blind lottery system from the same pool of Harlem and South Bronx kids who attend the poor-performing district schools down the street.
So, what is this white, former suburban soccer mom with three kids of her own doing right?
The answer is outlined in her new book “Born to Rise” and begins in 2001, when the happily married Kenny lost her husband to leukemia. That inspired her to dive head-first into a lifelong interest in education reform that stemmed from her earlier years as teacher with a Ph.D. in comparative education.
Before her first two charter schools opened in 2003 (with the help of grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), she “apprenticed” at the for-profit Edison Project, which manages schools across the country, and sought advice from Don Shalvey who had established the first charter school in California.
But she was perhaps most inspired by the best private school in the country, Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC, where President Obama now sends his children.Follow @NYPostOpinion