On Thursday, February 16th, I visited my alma mater, Cardinal Spellman High School, to speak to the seniors of Mr. Schoenberg’s morning Finance and afternoon Government & Economics classes. As we used to say in my day, I brought two “visual” aids, my class of 1999 yearbook and copies of LittleAfrica News’ papers. The topic of our discussion was “The Black History of Hair at Cardinal Spellman” as well as showcasing a Black Woman-owned business leading by example.
I took a trip back in time by having the yearbook passed around so students could answer the questions of how many black teachers they would see back in my day and what hairstyles we used to be able to have. In my day, men could wear their hair in a Caesar, Afro, or Fade, whereas the ladies could wear their hair, straight, curly, or short afro. Present day, you can see African American students with locks, braids, and even in different colors.” The students were amazed and shocked at all the progress “we” made for them. They couldn’t believe at this school, it was so culturally strict.
But here’s the problem, currently our Catholic and Private schools go unnoticed and are under constant threat of closing. This can be seen with the recent announcement of school closures, including my alma mater St. Angela Merici in the South Bronx. As you may or may not know, parents who send their children to private schools pay twice for education. There is the tuition and then their taxes go to support public and charter schools, at a rate higher than any other education system in any other state.
When I spoke to my old Dean, now first “Black” principal Ms. Jeri Faulkner, she explained to me that a Cardinal Spellman education per child costs almost $3,000 less per child and the staff gets paid much less than their public sector counterparts. However, since the COVID pandemic started along with vaccine mandates, migrant influx, and unsafe environments, Spellman’s enrollments have gone up 60% from public school transfers alone. She said, “we’re good”, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “what about the lower grades?” The secret to Cardinal Spellman is that it’s no longer under the regulation of the Archdiocese of New York. It’s independent with a board similar to a charter school, but still able to keep the Faith-Based component that is so important for young people’s moral compass.
However, with the proposed closing of St. Angela, I have taken the following steps with the parents and stakeholders: First, we were able to update nearly 80 voter registrations from the Democratic Party to the Conservative Party because people always wanted a third party, but didn’t know one existed. Plus they were “tired” of elected officials not supporting private schools. FYI, most if not ALL Black men in politics and in professional settings in New York, with no drama, baby momma, no jail, no drugs… ALL went to private schools, if not send their children there. Second, we’re looking to follow the Cardinal Spellman model of getting out of the archdiocese control and becoming what is called a Partnership school. An example of this is Immaculate Conception South Bronx, which is thriving independently. Third, I have a meeting with the Children’s Scholarship Fund in a few weeks to discuss how we can use them as a fiscal sponsor for our fundraising efforts to afford up to 75% of scholarships for students in need with a 25% parent commitment. And fourth, making St. Angela the official D75-esk school to provide SETSS, IESP / IEP, and all “services” the other schools are supposed to provide, but don’t.
Imagine how many parents will transfer their students knowing that they will have quality educators who have certifications in ALL special needs professions, access to a “neuropsychologist” who is the only qualified individual to give proper assessments of children, entry into well-known New York State sports programs, and so much more.
So let’s make Black History in Education by helping move this project forward.
Hon. Dion Powell, MPA, is the County Committeeman for the 79th Assembly District in The Bronx. For more information, email him at [email protected]