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May 20, 2024 17 mins
Miriam Raccah, CEO of Black Latinx Asian Charter Collaborative (BLACC), explains the benefits and importance of recruiting, training, supporting, and retaining more educators and school leaders of color. BLACC is a nonprofit that serves 24 community-based public charter schools representing more than 14,000 students across New York. For more, visit
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Welcome to Get Connected with Nina delRio, a weekly conversation about fitness,
health, and happenings in our communityon one oh six point seven Light FM.
Good morning and thanks for listening toget connected. Perhaps you weren't aware.
Fifteen percent of New York City studentsattend charter schools. Ninety percent of
these students are Black, latinx orAsian. However, only ten percent of

these schools were founded or are ledby people of color. Our guest is
Miriam Roca, CEO of Black latinxAsian Charter Collaborative Black, for a conversation
about the benefits and importance of recruiting, training, supporting, and retaining more
educators and school leaders of color.Miriam Roca, thank you for being on
the show. It's my pleasures tobeyre Nina Black is a nonprofit organization that

serves twenty four community based public charterschools, representing more than fourteen thousand students
across New York. You can findout more by visiting Black Schools Org.
That is b Laccschools dot org.So the imbalance I spoke about in the
Intromeriam is reflected in the traditional publicschool system too. More than sixty five

percent of New York City public schoolstudents are black or LATINX, yet their
teachers represent fewer than eighteen percent.In fact, one third of all New
York public schools have zero black orLATINX teachers. Why does it matter?
What does the data show? Thedata shows that students of color who have

one teacher who is also a personof color perform thirteen percent better than if
they don't have that teacher, andif they have two teachers of color in
their formative years. This is mostlylooking at elementary school, their performance doubles.
So the data is clear. Itis really important for all sorts of

reasons that students have teachers that looklike them in the classroom. Why are
there so few school leaders of colorand teachers of color? Where is the
catch in the pipeline at the collegelevel, the hiring level. I think
it's everywhere Branically, I think atthe college level, you know, it
used to be teaching was one ofthe preferred professions for black men and women,

right, but that has changed.We have many more options now,
which is a good thing, soa fewer people are entering the profession.
I think there's a thought that it'snot a very lucrative profession, whereas you
know, you might be in salesor you might be in Wall Street and
you make a lot more money.But also, I think a lot of

the programs at the college level arevery theoretical and don't do a lot to
make teachers feel like they're very wellprepared when they go into the classroom.
So I think people tend to stayfor a little bit and get overwhelmed and
leave. And then I think it'sa pipeline issue, right, So if
they're not coming in in the beginningas teachers, they're not going to become

principals and school leaders down the line, So it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
Might it also be because you seethat there's so few principles and school
leaders and people on boards that looklike you to begin with, the job
path might look like I'm only goingto get this far. Yes, yeah,
I think that's also part of theself fulfilling prophecy. Right, you
don't see it, so you don'tunderstand that that's a possibility for you.

I used to run an organization calledUrban Teaching Core, and it was a
very small organization, but what wedid was really recruit those young people and
train them in a way that wasreally meaningful before they went into the classroom
on their own. And most ofthe people we worked with are still in
the classroom. I think that hada lot to do with them seeing us,
me and my partner in the organizationwho looked like them, and we

were really emphasizing the importance of thembeing in the classroom and trying to find
a pathway for them into the classroom. So what is the organization you're with
now? What is the Black latinxAsian Charter Collaborative And what schools do you
serve? So we are a memberorganization. We have twenty four member schools,
mostly throughout the state. The largestnumber are in New York City.

We have a couple on Long Island, a couple in Westchester, and a
couple upstate. We are growing aswell, and we represent over fourteen thousand
students with those twenty four schools,and our job is to elevate their concerns
and their needs as school leaders ofcolor with the goal of making sure that
there are more and more school leadersof color who attract teachers of color,

and that pipeline you know, continuesto grow. We have an advocacy arm
that really seeks to promote the causesand the things that they need to do
their job and do it well.We also have a regranting program where we
actually grant funds to our member schoolsfor innovation and also sort of just capacity

building. We have a monthly membershipmeeting, a leadership retreat, just all
sorts of things to try and makeas a sector, these folks stronger and
better able to do their work.There's so much going on with your advocacy
work. Let's talk about that ina moment after I remind everybody who we're
speaking with. Our guest is MariamRoca. She's CEO of Black latinx Asian

Charter Collaborative Black. A dynamic advocatefor education reform. Miriam Roca has over
twenty years of experience leading nonprofit organizationsdedicated to innovation in urban education. Most
notably, she founded Girls Preparatory CharterSchools and the Public Prep Network. You
can find out more about Black atBlack Schools dot org, Blaccschools dot org.

You're listening to get connected on oneO six point seven Light FM.
I'mina del Rio So you recently organizeda rally in Albany to raise awareness about
what you view as unfair grant fundingpractices by the New York State Education Department.
What specifically is going on there?What were you protesting? So a
lot of the funding that New YorkState Education Department gives comes to them by

way of the federal government, andin a number of grants that we looked
at, it specifically says charter schoolsneed not apply. We know, by
law charter schools are public schools.That is the definite, you know,
by law, charter schools or publicschools. So there's no there doesn't seem
to be any reason, any rationalreason in law, that we would be

precluded from applying for these grants,which over the eight year period that we
were looking at, totaled over abillion dollars in funding. It's significant funds
for schools that have to, youknow, do all their back office themselves,
deal with their facilities, sometimes bythemselves right, and raise funds for
themselves. So the fact that theseschools have been prevented from even applying is

what we're objecting to. Another issueout of Albany, after a four year
halt on new charter schools. Lastyear, state lawmakers reached a deal to
allow fourteen he knew charter schools inNew York City to open. These are
licenses for charters that had closed orhad never opened, and they've been nicknamed
zombie charters. What is going on? What's the progress in the last year.

What's happening with the zombie charters.Yeah, we all wish we had
a better term for them. Yeah, but the undead is what they are.
So yes, as you said,fourteen were authorized or reauthorized by the
legislature and right now, as Iunderstand, Sunni Charter Schools Institute has issued

an RFP. In the fall,we made comments to that RFP. They
opened the process to comments, andwe told them that we thought that there
should be a few things different inthe way that they were even approaching the
RFP process, to make it moreequitable and to ensure that more leaders of
color would apply. But they wentahead and most of those they did not

adopt, and they put their RFPout. I think it was in December.
It was due very rapidly, sojust after the new year, I
feel like early January. And wecan tell by the applicants. You know
that there certainly are a number ofcommunity based schools founded by that are seek

to be founded by people of color, but there are a lot of traditional
or white light, if you will, charter organizations that had asked for quite
a few of these applications. Oneof the things we said is that an
entity that had unopened charters shouldn't beeligible to apply for these zombie charters.

They should go to people who aren'tholding on to charters that they haven't opened.
And yet it seems that a lotof the applicants at least are going
to those very organizations, and sowe're in the process. The applications are
in as soon as going through theirprocess. Our hope is that they will
take very seriou the perspective and thedesire of the legislature, which was that

the majority of these go to peopleof color, that diversity be at the
center of anything that had to dowith these fourteen zombie schools, and so
our hope is that they will infact ultimately go to more people of color
than not. A couple of questionsto clarify the zombie charters, why would

someone hold on to a license andnot open in the first place, and
the applicants that you know of thatyou feel are worthy of receiving more attention
these charters. Have you reached outto them, are you trying to support
them in any way if they've requestedit, or if you've been in communication.
I don't know. I'm sure thereare many reasons someone might Perhaps it's
finance, perhaps it's facilities, perhapsit's hiring, you know, and I

understand also that we're not very certainwhen we'll get more charters, right,
So I understand from a business perspectivethe desire to get as much as you
can. But this is not justa business enterprise, like this sector is
not a business sector. While wevery much approach our work with a lot

of the very important tenets of efficiencyand accountability that business have businesses have,
we're much more about the social goodand about trying to make sure that communities
are represented in our work. Andas we've talked about, this is really
important to students and their performance andhow they see themselves in the world.
And so, you know, whileI can understand why somebody might do it,

my hope would be that they wouldthey would let other people have that
opportunity, specifically people from the community. Yes, we have reached out to
applicants that are people of color.We have not really yet found ways to
help them, but I'm very hopeful, and if anybody's listening who is amongst
those, please reach out to me. We are eager to help you get

your school over the finish line,and then beyond that to help you with
establishing school. Mayoral control is alsoa really touchy topic within the education system
in the city. What are yourthoughts on that and the four year extension
of mayoral control of the school systemthat looks likely in June. Yeah,

I mean, my thoughts are thata lot of good has happened since mayoral
control has come into effect. Ithink student performance is much higher than it
was before mayoral control. Can't ignorethat. If you lump charter schools in
which have definitely expanded under mayoral control, that student performance is even higher.

It's the bottom line, right,that's what we should be looking at.
If kids are doing better under mayoralcontrol, it should be a non conversation.
I've gone to several of the hearingsthat were held on mayoral control,
and I did not hear people sayanything about student performance not being better I
heard things like teachers felt that itwasn't the best way for them to,

you know, for schools to berun, but I didn't hear. I
heard parents who were also teachers talkabout it, but I didn't hear that
students weren't doing better. And Ithink that's what we have to always focus
on. I think education is soimportant to our city, to our nation,
to our children, to our underservedcommunities, and it's very beneficial to

have one person who has one personthat are ultimately responsible for how children are
doing. And I think that it'sinteresting. I wasn't aware that we had
had mayoral control before the latter systemwas put into place, and there's a
lot of research that's been done aboutwhat happened once mayoral control went away and

this sort of more community controlled boardsof education came into play. That there
was a lot of corruption, alot of things that didn't go well.
Hiring was a bit unwieldy, anda lot of people who shouldn't be in
schools were hired in schools. Andso I mean, I think ultimately the

kids are better off and that's whatwe need to focus on. So I'm
one hundred percent behind expanding the termof mayoral control, and I don't think
it makes any sense to limit anyof the benefits that have been given.
Are the power that's been given tothe mayor at this point in time,
I don't think I heard Mayor Adamssay, you know, you've had two

guys from Boston that you gave thispower to, and then the guy from
Brownsville you want to take it awayfrom, Like it doesn't make sense.
So I tend to believe that he'sright in that. I want to ask
you also about the migrant families andasylum seekert families. There's so many of
these children that you know need tobe in school, want to be in
school. What challenges have they facedin trying to be enrolled? And how

are you serving them? Yeah,the challenges are monumental. I have one
school leader who went to one ofthe intake centers or one of the places
that migrants are living or the newlyarrived are living on thirty fourth Street very
early in the morning to see,you know, what are these kids doing
to get to school? And youknow, six o'clock in the morning,

they're getting put on buses. Theirparents have no real knowledge of where their
kids are going because they don't knowthe city. So your kid could be
going somewhere in Queens. You're puttinga little third grader or second grader or
first grader, kindergartener on a busand trusting that they're going to come back
at the end of the day,and thank god they have. But that

very same school leader leads a schoolin the Bronx that has been very welcoming,
as have all of our schools tothe newly arrived students. I think
one of the things that they facethat many school students are facing school age
children are facing now is just trauma, right. Trauma is huge in our

society in general and our city,and certainly children who have done the horrible
trek to become you know, tocome to America and then to be sent
to New York are traumatized by that. And so I think the big needs
that they have are to have astable environment where they are cared for,

where they are looked after, andcan heal that trauma and then get onto
learning. And so the other thingis that many of our schools serve populations
that are English as a new language, so kids who are learning English,
and so these children are just moreof those same kids, and so the
benefits are the systems that exist benefitthem as well, and so we're trying

really hard. We want those kidsin our population. For sure, we
already have those kids in our population, and so we want to continue to
serve them. Mariam, what wouldyou like someone listening to take away from
this conversation. I want people toknow that there are charter schools out there
that look like the community that theyserve. I think that's really important.

I think that people tend to knowof a handful of schools that they hear
over and over again, that theysee ads for, that they hear in
the press, and that's not whatwe are, by and large. It's
certainly a part of who we are. And I'm not taking anything away from
any of those providers they run,many of them run wonderful schools. But
there are these other schools that reallyare a community based, that really are

have leaders that are from the community, that understand the community, that have
many of them very deep roots inthe community, that focus on hiring teachers
that also look like them and thekids that they serve, and that are
just sort of these wonderful, smaller, very nimble and reactive places where kids
can learn and thrive. I thinkthat's the biggest thing. I want parents

that are listening, or even potentialteachers who are listening to know about us.
Our guest has been Mariam roca Is, CEO of Black latinx Asian Charter
Collaborative. The acronym is black theLACC. You can find out more on
the website Black Schools dot org.Thank you for being on Get Connected,

My pleasure. Thank you having me. This has been Get Connected with Nina
del Rio on one oh six pointseven light Fm. The views and opinions
of our guests do not necessarily reflectthe views of the station. If you
missed any part of our show orwant to share it, visit our website
for downloads and podcasts at one osix to seven lightfm dot com. Thanks
for listening.
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