The critical message that “our kids can’t wait” rang out in opening remarks today for the third-annual New Jersey Charter Schools Association (NJCSA) conference, attended by more than 600 charter school teachers, administrators and supporters dedicated to sweeping education reform in the state.

“The charter school vision is that every child in New Jersey must have the opportunity to attend a high-quality public charter school,” said Carlos Perez, president & CEO of the NJCSA, during opening remarks. “There is no question: we must give schools the freedom to innovate. Greater autonomy equals greater school outcomes. For students and educators to flourish, they must have freedom. Our kids simply can’t wait.”

With 58 charter schools applications recently submitted to the state Department of Education for review, the charter school community is working to ensure that every child in New Jersey has a high-quality educational option – whether it be a charter school, a traditional public school or a private or parochial school.

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The morning’s keynote speaker was Kevin Chavous, Esq., a noted attorney, author and national school reform leader who helped bring $500 million to the Washington D.C. public schools as an elected official to promote sweeping change. Chavous expressed passionate urgency that now is the time to improve public education, citing statistics of startling drop-out rates among minorities in the nation’s cities, adding that American children continue to fall further behind other industrialized nations in the quality of the education they receive.
Chavous said it has been estimated that America has lost upwards of $3 trillion in potential revenue over the past 30 years to other countries, where children are better prepared to evolve and adapt in our ever-changing global economy.

“The real tragedy lies in the fact that we all know that accountability works, with high-quality teachers and an approach that there are absolutely no excuses,” Chavous said. “Children will rise and fall based on what we expect. By encouraging creativity and learning – while upgrading vocational offerings and changing the culture of our schools – learning works.”

Chavous said bureaucracies do not change from within, noting true reform will come from pro-charter educators and parents who refuse “one-size-fits-all” curricula and 3-5 year “action” plans when the need for reform is so immediate.

“Drive-by reform,” in which advocating for change is a “casual endeavor,” will not create the change the American educational system desperately needs.  “People have to get personally invested in it,” Chavous said, noting General George Washington lost six of his first nine battles with the British, yet refused to bow to King George III.

“Our revolution needs to be personal,” Chavous said. “Half the kids of color are dropping out in American cities, perpetuating industrialized child abuse, sentencing kids to poverty, prison or the cemetery. We need to fix the whole system. We can’t wait for an arcane funding formula to be amended to educate today. We can’t wait for local school districts to finally get it. We can’t wait for the right time.

“We can’t wait for America to wake up while the neighborhood school puts our kids to sleep,” he added. “Don’t just join the revolution. Now is the time to lead it; our children deserve nothing less.”

The two-day conference, titled “Delivering on the Promise,” features a variety of speakers, awards, exhibitions and networking opportunities to help strengthen charter schools and build toward the future.

The event will also feature keynotes from Peter Groff, president & CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.). In addition, there will be 40 break-out sessions, incorporating virtually every aspect of charter school operation.

“This is the only conference specifically dedicated to New Jersey’s charter school leaders, administrators, teachers, board members, parents and community supporters,” said NJCSA Chairman Carlos Lejnieks.

“With a Governor as a steadfast partner in the growth of charter schools in New Jersey, all eyes of the nation are on our state,” he added. “Many landmark charter schools are opening their doors this September, while we have heard of many exciting applications being compiled for state review in 2012. Collectively, we strive to deliver on the promise, to provide high-achieving, diverse options for public school children in New Jersey.”
 
The New Jersey Charter Schools Association (www.njcharters.org) works to advance educational choice for New Jersey’s children through quality public charter schools. The Association is a membership association representing operating and pre-operational charter schools in New Jersey. The Association has effectively advocated on behalf of charter schools since 1999, and is recognized in Trenton as a balanced and reliable source.