Montclair Residents Opposed to the Fulbright Charter School is a newly formed grassroots community activism group dedicated to ensuring that the Montclair Public Schools’ unique all-choice magnet system is not threatened by having significant funds diverted to a French immersion charter school, the Fulbright Academy Charter School of Montclair, which recently received Phase 1 approval from the New Jersey Department of Education.
Founders Claire Kennedy-Wilkins, Trente Miller, Sarah Blaine and Colleen Martinez met near a playground at a local park last Friday, June 24th, to hash out a strategy for turning persistent talk of discontent with the charter proposal into concrete action. In less than a week, they’ve built a Facebook group with over 500 members, begun a letter writing campaign to the local newspaper, The Montclair Times, generated a fact sheet and sample letter of opposition, publicized an online letter circulated by another community group, and secured a table from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 2nd, at a community institution, the Montclair Farmers’ Market, where they hope to reach members of the community who do not participate on social media.
“This charter application affects everyone in Montclair, whether or not that person currently has children in the public schools. If approved, it will force our community to dismantle key programs that attract students to our magnet schools, and by undermining the quality of our public schools, it will undermine the desirability of Montclair,” says founding member Claire Kennedy-Wilkins.
“Montclair is one of the few communities in New Jersey with schools that were intentionally desegregated, in our case through our unique all-choice K-8 magnet system,” says founding member Sarah Blaine. “We aren’t perfect, but we provide high-quality education to students from all walks of life, and as public school parents, we’re concerned that a charter school could destroy the demographic balance our community works hard to maintain.”
Blaine noted that one of the charter applicants’ primary advisors is Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLA). She explained that HoLA has 12% low income students, compared to 62% in the Hoboken Public Schools. Blaine concluded, “We are concerned that replicating HoLA’s approach could destroy the integration of our public schools, which have been a hallmark of this community’s values for 40 years.”
Founder Colleen Martinez noted that Governor Christie, most recently in his 2017 budget address, said that he was going to “continue working to expand charter school opportunities for families in failing school districts.” She said, “By no measure is Montclair a failing school district. We are proactive about trying to address the opportunity gap, but this is a community that is sending 23 of its 2016 high school graduates to Ivy League colleges. Why is Governor Christie violating his own principles by allowing his Education Commissioner to provide a Phase 1 approval to a charter school that threatens our community’s core values?”
Founder Trente Miller highlighted the language immersion focus of the charter school. “Our district already provides high-quality K-5 world language programs in Mandarin and Spanish in two of its schools, and is actively working to restore such programs to the other 5 elementary schools. All three of our grades 6-8 middle schools already offer daily language instruction. Why are a few community members trying to set up a high-cost special interest immersion program to serve a few hundred children at the expense of the almost 7,000 public school students in our town?”
The founders will have a booth at the July 2nd Montclair Farmers Market, and they urge members of the community to stop by to learn more about concrete actions they can take to voice their opposition to the charter school. “This group is not about debating the merits of a charter school,” Kennedy-Wilkins said, “it is about taking action to stop this charter school.”
The group has been amazed by the community’s response. One local parent designed and ordered 7 gross of custom pencils to publicize the opposition movement, and the group has already received multiple requests to help with going door-to-door to explain what a charter school would mean for the community.
Miller added, “In a community that is often divided on issues of education policy and politics, this is one issue that unites us all, and it has been heartening to see people from across the community putting aside their differences to put the brakes on this charter. We can only hope that the Fulbright charter founders have their community’s best interests at heart, and that they will promptly notify the NJDOE that they are withdrawing their application. If not, we hope that the NJDOE will recognize the widespread opposition to this charter, and deny its Phase 2 application. In the meantime, this is going to be a busy summer.”