I would like the opportunity to speak about the proposed closing of Emily Fisher Charter School in Trenton. The closing of this school will severely damage the lives of the students and seriously hurt the community.

I have been a teacher in some difficult districts. I have worked with the JJC in Jamesburg and have worked residential programs in Camden. It was not until I saw Emily Fisher, however, that I saw a troubled population getting what they needed and really starting to change.

I know that the bottom three percent is often referred to when dealing with a school’s test scores. The problem with this is that Emily Fisher searches out the lowest achieving and most troubled bottom three percent of the student body. The fact that they are even close to on par with the host district of Trenton is amazing. The district of Trenton is not a high benchmark, I understand this, but Emily Fisher has managed to advance the worst of their population.

I believe that charter schools need to be held accountable. They are an option for parents and need to be monitored to ensure they remain a viable option. I also believe that test scores, especially in certain districts, cannot be the only marker of success. A school is much more than solely a place for learning academics but also a place where children discover themselves, a place children can look up to role models, and the first place children learn to be citizens and productive members of society.

Emily Fisher’s uniqueness in its student population and it familial values help it to fill a niche that is not filled by any other school in the nation. I implore you to help keep this establishment running and use the power given to you by the people to try to get the federal government to emulate this type of charter school across the nation. Charter schools are supposed to be an option for parents, and for parents of ‘problem children’ in poor urban areas, a school like Emily Fisher is the only option. Again, the schools need to be held accountable, but not solely by standardized test scores. Standard tests do not show the individual growth of a student that came into district suicidal and could barely write their own name. They only prove that the child is not on grade level.

I am the first of my generation to be born in America. I remember the stories that my Nonna told me about when they first saw the Statue of Liberty and the rush of feelings she experienced. My family was fleeing from a war torn Europe during the Second World War. My family name, which is of Jewish origin, would have marked us to be delivered to the camps. Every day my family lived in fear. They did not know what to expect when they got to America, but they did know they finally found a home. I have to assume that the children that enter into Emily Fisher for the first time must feel the same way. They have been tossed around from one placement to another, many missing months of school in the process. The bottom line, most of the students that come to Emily Fisher are lost until they get there.

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

- Emma Lazarus

These are the words our country was founded on. This is the America I know and love. These are not just words but a promise we made, as Americans. Somewhere along the way they have been lost, maybe it was money, maybe it was politics, but regardless of the reason, it is time to uphold the promise we have made. We too often feel it is easier to toss the difficult ones aside, the ones that don’t fit our mold.

This is not a charter school that picks the cream of the crop students. It is a charter school that provides an asylum from a life on the street. It is a charter school that provides a necessary service, taking the students that no one else wants. Most of the students in Emily Fisher have been kicked out of other districts or have moved to come to a place that they feel is safer than the other schools. It is not a charter school that can be measured by traditional charter school formulas because it is not a traditional charter school. Test scores are low? Of course they are! Fisher starts at 5th grade and receives many students that are below a 1st grade reading level. That being said, the scores are low but continue to climb despite the terrible odds stacked against the school. Most schools see Fisher’s population as poison. Fisher not only welcomes them with open arms, but searches them out. Fisher is the fine line between a gun and a future. If you can find me evidence of a school that will truly try to advance this population, and keep them safe, then I have no argument. These are the children that fall through the cracks in other schools, the ones that get left behind. Fisher is a solution to this problem. If FAPE has any meaning to the state of New Jersey, they should have more charter schools emulate the Fisher model, not close it down. Trying to absorb the population into the Trenton Public Schools is going to be difficult and costly. I understand that it has been said that it will not cost the city money to absorb the new students but with such a high percentage of classified students flooding the public schools, I can't see how this is true. Many of the students have had out of district placements prior to attending Fisher, if they are required to go out of district again isn't that going to cost the taxpayers money? Fisher will never be a school that is in the upper echelon of test scores, but that is not the kind of school it is. It is a school that provides a very good free and public education, a school that helps the lowest level students catch up to their peers, and a family that keeps children from a life of drugs and gang violence. If that defines a failing school, then I am afraid to see what is to become of the American education system.

Sincerely,

Christopher Gabbai
New Egypt, NJ