April 5, 2017

PCS Expansion an Important Issue: It Should Not Be Allowed to Divide Us

To the Editor:

Community discourse should always be respectful and compassionate: we all want the best for our kids. In the past months, much of the discussion around the expansion of the Princeton Charter School (PCS) has centered on the lack of diversity at PCS. While an unrepresentative student body is something that should be corrected, it seems to me that this issue has been blown out of proportion, to the point of tearing apart the fabric of our community. PCS parents and children are not racist, and the Princeton Public School (PPS) community would oppose the expansion even if PCS had been diverse. Let us not pretend that this is the issue at the heart of the disagreement, and let us not label and shame anyone in the community unfairly.

Many issues are at stake — the oversight of a school by an elected board and the ability of the community to democratically decide on how taxpayer money is used on the one hand, and giving families and children in our community a choice of schools on the other hand. In October 2015, Superintendent Steve Cochrane and the PPS district screened the excellent documentary Beyond Measure to a full auditorium of community members: teachers, parents, and students. The point of the movie was well taken: children are not made from a mold, and there is no one-size-fits-all school that is best for everybody. Even public schools that ranks extremely high in the state and country (as ours are) can sometimes, for a variety of reasons, be a poor fit for a child. Whether the alternative should be a charter school, a magnet school, or easier cross-enrollment in schools that one is not zoned for, it is good to have alternatives. Rather than calling others names and tearing up friendships, it would be great if we could all engage in kind, compassionate, and productive discourse about what alternatives are needed and what needs are not met by our public schools, and find ways to meet these needs while maintaining our excellent schools and respecting the democratic process.

These are very stressful and polarizing times. The PCS expansion is an important issue, but we should not allow it to divide us just at a time when we need to be united to fight much more significant threats to our society and democracy. It is all too easy to succumb to the (social-media facilitated) temptation to dehumanize others, but this is ultimately a losing strategy for everyone.

Yael Niv 

Franklin Avenue