Last year, our team of educators and community members set out to do something radical in public education: bring to Brooklyn a community-grown, gender-conscious school where black and brown girls (inclusive of our gender non-conforming and transgender youth) not only achieve at the highest levels, but feel safe, valued and affirmed. In partnership with our community, we designed a revolutionary model rooted in eliminating implicit bias, restorative justice practices and instruction of the highest quality.
We connected with over 300 young women and families, listened to their stores and centered them in our school design. In March, our school — Kwenda Collegiate Girls Charter School — was approved to open by the state. Yet our school, and the young women we represent, hit an unforeseen glass ceiling with the current cap on public charter schools.
Despite the hundreds of families that signed on in support of our model, and despite our being approved to open, unless Albany votes to lift the cap, we will never be able to open our doors. This unfair reality can only be explained by politics and, from where we sit, has very little to do with the wishes and lived experiences of our families.
Why does our school and its mission matter? Consider some data. An independent study of over a thousand New York City young people also found that 1 in 3 young women and transgender youth experienced sexual harassment in schools. Despite this, the New York City Department of Education — a school system with 1.1 million students — employs just one Title IX coordinator responsible for responding to reports of sexual assault and violence on the campuses of our K-12 public schools.
In New York State, black girls are almost four times more likely to be suspended than their white peers for the same offense. In New York City, black girls are 10 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers.
These statistics are jarring, and they reveal the genuine limitations of our current system.
We know things don’t have to be this way. Schools like ours, designed with girls in mind, can have transformational impact. That is why parents should have a choice in the most appropriate models for their children.
Girls’ schools launch our future young women onto paths of self-sufficiency and leadership. Alumnae consistently report higher levels of confidence and increased access to leadership roles. Fewer than 1% of girls in the United States attend girls’ schools, yet an estimated 20% of the women currently serving in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives graduated from an all-girls school.
Here is the bottom line: This is about equity. Girls’ schools have always been accessible to our state’s most affluent families. In fact, New York City is home to some of the most elite and storied private girls’ schools in the country. But major barriers to access remain for those families who cannot afford private school tuition.
Today in Brooklyn, there is only one public, tuition-free girls’ elementary school. Every year it has a kindergarten waitlist of hundreds of girls. Our school would have changed that, but since the arbitrary charter cap remains, families seeking a progressive school option like ours won’t have access to the model they believe is best for their daughters.
Equity is ensuring that parents do not have to bus their children hours away to other boroughs to access tuition-free all-girls schools when the option can be readily available in their neighborhoods.
Now more than ever, amidst the backdrop of a national conversation around women’s autonomy over their bodies and fundamental independence, our girls and young women deserve schools that empower them with the confidence of voice to advocate for themselves.
Our school sits poised to address these issues head-on. Yet, here we, and the hundreds of Brooklyn families that signed on in support of our model, sit waiting on Albany to act, hoping the legislature will lift the arbitrary cap on new charter schools.
That’s why we need Albany to hear our story, and we need legislators to act.