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Denise Rodriguez-Malvo

Trying to educate a future governor

IN JANUARY, I brought my 7-year-old son, Suraj, to hear Governor Patrick deliver his inaugural address in front of the State House. It was a brilliant speech. Ever since hearing it, Suraj has been telling everyone that he, too, plans to be governor someday so he can help others.

Quality education is a prerequisite if Suraj and so many other Boston children are to realize their dreams. We sought this type of opportunity for my son, Suraj, and our foster son, Torin, and applied to the Edward W. Brooke Charter School in Roslindale, but space was limited and both were placed on a wait list. We applied to the Murphy and O'Brien Schools, as well as the Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School. But in May we learned that our children didn't get into them. Now, too many of their options are schools rated "needs improvement" or in "corrective action" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

We have firsthand experience with the benefits of educational choice. Our 10th-grade daughter is on the honor roll at Boston Arts Academy, a Boston pilot school. Given how the opportunity to attend Milton Academy transformed Governor Patrick's life, I hope he and the Readiness Task Force he recently appointed will advocate for the creation of additional charters and pilots.

We originally chose the Brooke Charter for our children because of the way teachers there take charge of the classroom. They teach a highly structured curriculum, encourage student participation, and work to address each student's individual needs. They require parental involvement. The result is that 100 percent of the school's eighth-grade class scored advanced or proficient on the most recent MCAS English language arts exam, placing the school at the top of its class statewide - higher even than elite suburban districts.

Structure is particularly important for young males. My husband and I work to create a structured environment for our children at home, and it's important to us that our work be reinforced at school.

The religious school Suraj attends suffers from high teacher turnover and has no set curriculum. So I go to Borders, purchase his textbooks, and teach him when I come home from work.

My husband and I will do whatever is necessary to give our children access to the education they deserve, but we don't believe it should require us to pay for a private school. Nor should it mean our children have to be bused to the suburbs via the METCO program. They should have access to educational opportunity close to home.

Today, a series of caps limits the number of students who can attend charter public schools, despite strong parental demand. Boston is one of several urban school districts at or near the cap that prevents more than 9 percent of district spending from being transferred to charters. Charter school supporters have proposed raising the cap to 20 percent in districts that score in the bottom 10 percent on the MCAS exam.

I have heard the arguments made by charter school opponents. In the final analysis, they all come down to narrow self-interests.

Enlightened self-interest dictates a broader approach. It is economic growth that will generate the revenue to fund charter and traditional public schools, as well as provide jobs and opportunity for Suraj, Torin, and so many others. Talented workers will make businesses locate and expand here. And more than any other single factor, the quality of our workforce is determined by public education.

Like all parents, I want to see my children achieve their dreams. But as much as I would love to someday listen to Suraj deliver his inaugural address, the issue is larger, with both philosophical and practical components. First, educational opportunity should not be solely the province of the affluent. Second, a vibrant economy fueled by a talented workforce is a prerequisite to opportunity for all our children.

That's why I hope Governor Patrick will fight to raise the cap on charter schools and extend opportunity to more of the children he has inspired.

Denise Rodriguez-Malvo lives in Dorchester.

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