Voices from the Parent Summit: Tafshier Cosby-Thomas on Charter School Wars, a Pact With Her Sisters, and Helping Parents Become Education Advocates.

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Last year I interviewed Tafshier Cosby-Thomas about her educational experiences in Newark, both as a student and a parent. At the time of that interview, the New Jersey Department of Education was in the midst of its Charter School Act Review and soliciting input from lobbyists and, more importantly, parents. Tafshier was one of those parents. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for a video of her addressing  the DOE and Commissioner Repollet).When I asked her last year about Newark’s famous “charter- district school wars” she told me, “there’s a quiet movement happening. Oh, there are still those loudmouths, but the truth is that lots of families have their children in some combination of charter and district. Our children play together, we see each other at Shoprite, and we are part of the same communities.” On the occasion of the 4th Annual Parent Summit earlier this month, we chatted again. In some places I’ve added links and editorial comments to add context.

Laura: Last we left off, you had two children who had already graduated from college — your daughter was off to teach English in China — and a son who was a senior at KIPP’s Newark Collegiate Academy [NCA]. Give me an update!

Tafshier: Of course! My daughter was all ready to go to China but at the last minute she decided it was more important to her to teach in her own community before going overseas. So she applied for and was hired as a kindergarten teacher at Uncommon’s North Star Academy.  She just took her Praxis [a required test for teachers] and is starting her Master’s degree at Relay [Graduate School of Education]. 

Laura: You must be so proud. How is your son? He just graduated from high school, right?

Tafshier: Yes, in June from NCA. It was the best day of my life — my last baby graduating from high school. In September he’ll start at Union County College; that’s the best fit for him. He needs to mature a bit before moving on to a four-year college. Essex Community College is closer but it doesn’t have the psychology program he’s interested in. When he’s done at Union he wants to transfer to Stockton University, where my daughter got her Bachelor’s.

You know, I have three sisters. We made a pact years ago that all our children — nine among us — will graduate from high school.  We called it the “No Child Left Behind Pact.” My younger son is the seventh– two more to go and our pact is complete!

Laura: Why did you and our sisters make that pact?

Tafshier: Because these days even if you want to work at McDonald’s you have to have a high school degree. And none of our kids will get left behind!

Laura: It’s been a year since we’ve last spoken, at least formally. What’s changed in Newark?

Tafshier: Oh, so much. Newark is done with state-appointed superintendents. [Newark regained local control last year after 25 years of state control.] Chris Cerf [the last state-appointed superintendent] was fine but some people saw him as too charter-friendly. Our new superintendent, Roger León, is seeking more collaboration, more ways to engage parents, more input. Parents are feeling that collaboration. And we appreciate the way he publicly acknowledges that Newark Public Schools still has struggles, still has work to do, and the only way to move the district forward is for us all to work together.

Look, we all want the same things for our children. If we don’t collaborate, our kids won’t be successful. There’s a camaraderie among parents — both charter and district — that continues to grow.

Laura: And things have changed for you professionally as well, right?

Tafshier: Yes. I worked for over 25 years in billing, collections and as a credit analyst. Then I heard that Shennell [McCloud, Executive Director of Project Ready] was leaving her old position at KIPP New Jersey. I applied for the position and I am now the School-Based Advocacy head for KIPP NJ-Newark!

Laura: Congratulations! What do you do?

Tafshier: Thank you, Laura! I work directly with parents to help them organize, mobilize, and take actions on issues surrounding their children’s education and community. I’m really focused on providing parents with more professional development so they can advocate most effectively. Teachers are there to teach, right? It’s up to parents to make sure our children are having the  best possible educational experience. It’s a partnership. I want to make that partnership as strong and deep as possible so that all our kids succeed, so that nobody gets left behind.

Laura: You’ve really leapt in!

Tafshier: Yes, and I have no regrets. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is, “how can I do the most good?” The answer is, “help organize parents to be great advocates.” I love doing that for a living now.

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