Why I sent my children to a charter school

Too many Boston families don’t have quality schools near them

I’VE LIVED IN BOSTON my entire life, but from first through twelfth grade I was bused as a METCO student to Newton. At the time it was difficult because my family was very poor and Newton is an affluent town. Also, my typical day began and ended with a long bus ride and I didn’t arrive home until early evening. I’m grateful that my mother made the choice to enroll me as a METCO student because the education I received was invaluable and I was able to go on and graduate from a prestigious college. Still, I wished I could’ve received the same quality education closer to home and had more opportunities to be more involved in my own community.

When you are attending school outside of your own community, it can be hard to figure out where you fit in. Boston is my home and my children’s education is of utmost importance to me. I’ve always believed the best fit would be a learning environment where my daughter and son could remain in their neighborhood to experience that connection between where they live and where they attend school. I visited some of the top Boston Public Schools and was discouraged by the lack of diversity. And when I did find diversity, many of those students were in special education classes and weren’t getting the same level of education as their peers. None of those schools felt like a fit.

Then I visited Neighborhood House Charter School where I was immediately welcomed by friendly teachers and colorful student artwork on exhibit in the hallways. In just one visit, the school made it clear that they not only hold the children to rigorous academic standards, but also welcome parent advocacy. They empower families by connecting them to resources and ample opportunities to be involved in their children’s education. I knew that this was the right school for my kids. Many other parents felt the same, but with only 10 spots available, many would be disappointed.

We got in.

“We got in” is probably the most powerful sentiment shared among charter school parents. Access to quality education shouldn’t come down to a gamble on your children’s futures. Both of my kids are thriving at Neighborhood House and are now set on a path for higher education and greater things.

Unfortunately, too many families in Boston and across Massachusetts don’t have enough choices for quality education in their communities. Choosing the right school in your own community shouldn’t feel like an extravagance. Boston has some great schools but there are limited options in Dorchester. No child should leave school unprepared for their next academic challenge. Our children deserve access to the schools that are the best fit for them, a place where they feel they truly belong.

We all need to work together, not divisively, to make this happen. We’ve seen charters work in Massachusetts and some powerful collaboration among district, parochial, and charters have begun. We need to continue this work, and lifting the cap is a crucial part of improving public education at all levels in Boston. Families want the best education possible, and right now many aren’t receiving that.  We owe it to our children to do more for educational equity. The more we work together, the more our children benefit, no matter what type of school they attend.

That’s why I favor legislation and a ballot question to lift the state’s cap on charter schools. This cap prevents more charters from being created in Boston and other districts where high quality options are uneven across neighborhoods. This cap leaves many children stranded on waiting lists, hoping the Legislature listens to them and addresses their needs. This cap denies equity, reduces options, and limits opportunity.  This cap hurts families, children, communities, and schools in every niche.

Meet the Author

Cassandra Cumberlander

Parent, Neighborhood House Charter School
Cassandra Cumberlander is a Mattapan wife and mom whose children attend Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. Her article was submitted to CommonWealth by a representative of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.