On competitive entrance schools in NYC

Dear Mr. Taylor,

I live in Washington Heights and I just voted for you

I am writing to you to plead you to support the competitive entrance public schools and programs in NYC. It is currently under attack from NYC Department of Education.

Our city is a unique place in the United States where a person can live in a poor neighborhood and still send his child to a high quality elementary, middle and high schools and programs.

These programs don’t take anything away from the children who didn’t get in. DOE pays exactly the same money per student to the worst and the best schools in NYC.

It’s not easy to get in. It’s hard to navigate the byzantine DOE system; there are very few programs and the competition is fierce. But if a child is gifted and her parents are motivated enough, they have a chance. Now, our mayor and the new education chancellor, Richard Carranza, want to take our chance away.

Twenty five years ago, I landed in the United States as a refugee with $100 in my pocket and poor English. The United States gave me a chance and I used it. I applied to colleges, got scholarship, education, and a job. Eventually, I became a US citizen. I don’t break laws, I pay taxes, do jury duty and take care of my neighborhood. My wife and I love Washington Heights and we’ve been living here for fifteen years. We have two little kids and we want the best for them. Because of my childhood, I am particularly sensitive to school issue. I grew up in a rough neighborhood myself, back in Russia. One child out of four in our zoned elementary/middle school ended up in prison or as an alcoholic. I hated that school every day. Fistfights, broken teeth, cracked ribs, heads stuck in flushing toilets, teachers screaming at us to maintain discipline instead of teaching, mostly self-education. My life started when at the age of 13 I walked into a competitive entrance specialized biology high school #199, passed three exams and was accepted. In that school, the kids wanted to study and read books and the teachers didn’t have to scream. Rather, they could teach.

I don’t want my children to deal with bullying, gangs and disciplinarians. New York City gives us this chance. There are citywide gifted and talented schools and district G&T programs. It’s so hard to get into a G&T school – the competition is 200:1. Still, there is a chance of getting into a citywide school. So, every day for the last 8 months, I’ve been training my daughter, getting her ready for January exam. Shockingly, she actually likes it and she is doing quite well. She has a chance. It is easier to get in a local district G&T program we don’t have any. Can you imagine that? District 3 has 600 G&T spots for 23,000 students. Our District 6 has ZERO G&T spots for 23,000 of our students. So, what should little nerds do?

But it is going to get worse. De Blasio and Carranza keep talking about closing all competitive entrance programs, in the name of social equity and justice. Very rich people won’t notice – their kids go to private schools anyway. Affluent people live in rich neighborhoods next to excellent zoned schools. They’ll be ok. So, in the name of equity and justice, Washington Heights residents will lose even a tiny chance we now have for an outstanding elementary education for our kids.

And it gets even worse. De Blasio and Carranza want to remove SHSAT entrance exams for NYC best high schools. All my friends and me, based on all experience and knowledge in education we have, are sure – it is going to dramatically decrease the quality of education in these schools. Every parent I know in Washington Heights, Russian, Latino, Asian, white, whatever – their kids went to, are going or are planning to go to SHSAT schools. If these schools are not available any more, the people for whom education is important, will start leaving Washington Heights.

Or look at it this way. Every year, 25,000 kids take G&T exams. Every year, 30,000 kids take SHSAT exams. Every year 55,000 families – 110,000 taxpayers, voters, residents invest so much time, effort and money to give their kids an access to better education. In five years, it makes half a million people who desperately want this public service paid with our taxpayers money. How can our government take it away from us? I feel like going back to the Soviet Union…

Or look at it this way. For all the talk about segregation, New York City is the least racially and economically segregated place in the United States. Everywhere else educated rich people move to a superzip suburb and send their kids to a good school. In NYC, good not-zoned education is available. Take it away from people with kids and they will move out of NYC. If I can’t provide good education for my kids, I will grind my teeth, pack and leave, however much I love New York.

Please fight for us.

Warm regards,

Boris Itin.

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