A new organization was formed about six months ago to provide public school parents with a voice in education. While Parents Coalition for Excellent Education, or PC2E, has a statewide focus, its roots are in Newark.
With so much change currently going on in education regarding the City, NewarkInc.'s Josh Frank caught up with PC2E’s Executive Director Muhammed Akil to ask him about the specific role of PC2E in Newark.
NewarkInc.: “Muhammed, what exactly is PC2E and why was it formed?”
Akil: “PC2E was formed and organized on the foundation of providing all public school parents with a strong voice in the education debate. In our mind, the more people involved the better. No matter where you live, education is a deeply passionate issue – because it involves and affects our kids. But too often only the extremes on this issue are heard. What PC2E is trying to do is bring people together and create a platform so all parents can get involved. Both the staff and volunteers associated with PC2E believe that we can come together. No matter where you sit in Newark, I think all of us want to refocus attention to make sure all Newark students are getting the education they need to get enrolled in college. But instead of fighting in a war of ideas about education, as we have seen during the last few years, we believe we can change the status quo without anyone loosing, just people winning.”
NewarkInc.: “PC2E has now less than a year, what are you seeing in Newark?
Akil: “Well, we began the school year with a tremendous book bag and school supply giveaway to about 5,000 public school students. It was an amazing community experience. This winter we did a giveaway to public school students in need of warm clothes. In all we gave away 3,000 hats, gloves, and scarves. In both cases, we worked with local community groups, schools, and Newark’s electeds to create education related events to get all of this distributed. You saw smiles. You saw hugs. You saw people coming together to do what is best for kids. There was a time in Newark only a few months ago where I do not think you could attend an education-related event without yelling, blaming and hatred. That has totally changed in the last six months. We are seeing more productive School Board meetings, more parents feel comfortable sharing their voice on the issue of education, and there seems to be great hope for civility and working together. That is what PC2E is about - this is why we were created.
NewarkInc.: “One of the accusations against PC2E is that you are a pro-charter organization, how do you respond to that?”
Akil: PC2E wants to change the status quo in Newark’s schools. Taxpayer’s money does not get into all our classrooms. Not all are classrooms provide our kids with the education they deserve. That is an issue and it has been the issue for a long time, but nothing changes. Frankly, I do not care what kind of school you are – as long as it is a public school and as long as it is providing kids with a great education. Call them district, charter, community, magnet, or renaissance schools. I really do not care, and I do not think most parents care, what they are called. Parents want local control, they want public school options so they are making the decisions for their own kids and they want great public schools. That is what PC2E is fighting for. For those who need to collapse people or organizations into nice neat names or phrases, feel free to call of a “pro-quality education for all organization”.
NewarkInc.: “Based on the reporting in NJ.com, it sounds like PC2E was deeply involved in the creation of this Unity Slate running for School Board. How did this come about and why do you think we are seeing it now?
Akil: “We are pleased to see the Unity Slate come to form. It sends a great message to our community, and our kids, that we can come together. The people who deserve the most credit are the three candidates. In Kim, Tave and Leah we have three very different leaders, very different passions, yet they are working together as one. They are showing that the issue of education can focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. As I mentioned, you truly felt a new positive breeze blowing at the beginning of the year. The work of this Unity Slate simply fills the demand of parents. Parents are tired of the blame game. PC2E is technically not involved in this day-to day-operation campaign, as we are an advocacy and policy-driven organization, but we do think it is good policy to come together. The Unity Slate is something that many people discussed and worked towards, including State Senator Ruiz, Michele Adubato, Phil Alagia, Anibal Ramos, and of course, Mayor Baraka, to name but a few. Each had this vision and hope for the City. The bottom line with everyone was that Newark did not need more toxic and divisive debates on education, rather, that the education of children had to become the priority. Parents and children must come first.
NewarkInc.: “What does PC2E hope to see in the future?”
Akil: Well, in the immediate future I hope people will vote on April 19th. No matter whom they support, voting is the best way to have a voice in the decision about our children’s future. And no matter whom you vote for, voting in this school board election is important because we need to change the status quo of education in Newark. Most of all, I hope that State finally returns the control of the school system back to the people of Newark. This has gone on far too long. The City has endured enough. And finally, it's time we set higher expectations in the area of education. We are starting to see it. More parents are providing their voice to the education debate. Parents seem to be supporting this Unity Slate in force. The bottom line is that there are kids in our public schools that deserve a bright future and should be prepared for college and get enrolled into college or a trade. Newark has a strong school to prison pipeline, and that is unacceptable. It is time for all parents to unify and say enough is enough. It’s a pretty simple path -- we can either continue doing what we are doing, or we can change. So for the sake of our children, when I think I the future – we need to demand change for our kids.