By Jamila Johnson
August 24, 2016

AL DÍA News recently hosted a panel titled, “The State of Public Education: Charter School Edition,” at the Pyramid Club. Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, moderated the discussion along with four leaders in education within the community.

The second annual panel included: Angel Figueroa – CEO of I-Lead Charter School , Alfredo Calderón Santini – President & CEO of ASPIRA, Farah Jimenez – President & CEO of the Philadelphia Education Fund, and Dr. DarcyRussotto- President of Pan American Charter School.

During the panel, the speakers explored the current charter and public school systems and each highlighted how they see charter schools as a response to public education.

“What’s happening with the evolution of charter schools is inevitable and the rest of the country is doing it for all the right reasons… in 2009, [there was] a more than a 50% dropout rate… As a father of Olivia – 15 and Natalia – 10, I felt morally compelled to do something for the rest of the kids in the city of Reading,” said Angel Figueroa.

With 95 charter schools in Philadelphia alone, the discussion on the impact of charter schools and the discussion of how to help them thrive comes at a critical time.

From high dropout rates and poverty to the need for bilingual education, the panelists highlighted the unfulfilled opportunities for growth they saw within their communities and how each charter school can provide that specialized attention to students.

“Our Congreso partners founded us to be a different option for students in our neighborhood. And I’m proud to say that today we offer very close to a private education to our students. And we have 250 students who come on buses from around the city. We are a dual language school, fifty percent of our instruction is in English and fifty percent of our instruction is in Spanish. And we hope to graduate fully bilingual students. We know what an amazing opportunity that will give,” said Dr. Darcy Russotto.

Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, acknowledged that charter schools are often highlighted in a negative way but stated that many have a positive impact within the communities they serve.