Northeast Charter Schools Network Advocacy Manager John Sanchez grew up in the South Bronx in the 90’s, when public education there was downright bad and options were almost nil.
An only child, his mother was determined to find another way and his parents ended up enrolling him in a Catholic school - Immaculate Conception School on 151st and Melrose.
“My parents wanted the best for me and they couldn’t afford a private school on the Upper East or West Side. And back then, charter schools weren’t an option,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said looking back he realizes how incredibly lucky he was for this educational opportunity. He said he was always encouraged by his teachers to do well. There was strict, but fair discipline, and for that, he always felt safe. His teachers encouraged his literacy from a young age and told him he’d go far since he had brains and a work ethic.
“There was never any thought that my classmates and I wouldn’t go to high school and then go on to graduate from college. It was expected for us from day one."
Sanchez continued to excel and eventually went on to attend NYU, studying management and organizational behavior. But it was an internship he did in his junior year with Scholastic that piqued his interest in education.
“During my internship, I learned about the huge Latino and black achievement gap. The results of some recent research at the time were appalling. Seventy to 80 percent of students of color weren’t proficient in math and English. I couldn’t believe it. The future of the country wasn’t looking too bright when you think about the fact that so many people are unable to read.”
Sanchez started to realize there was something wrong with the system.
“I didn’t always see the inequities because I went to a great school. I was really fortunate – and I started to look around NYU. Very few students of color there went to New York City public high schools. And there weren’t a lot of students of color from NYC to begin with.”
Sanchez continued his education and after college worked in the office of Assemblyman Michael Blake (D- Bronx) as Constituent Services Manager. He remembers a parent that called for help getting her child transferred out of a district school after the school had three principals in one year. The parent vowed to sacrifice sleep and food in order to afford private school for her child.
Sanchez began to think about education again, and applied for a position as the Northeast Charter Schools Network’s Advocacy Manager for New York City. He aced the interview, and started working for the Network in January of 2016.
Sanchez is a big proponent of giving parents options, and in particular parents in underserved communities such as the Bronx. He simply cannot understand the vitriol surrounding charters especially when so many are providing a pathway out of poverty.
“New York City students of color have enough obstacles – the only equalizer is education and when that becomes an obstacle, we have a problem that can’t be solved.”
But Sanchez said he is encouraged by what he sees visiting charter schools across all five boroughs and mobilizing them to advocate for charter-friendly policies and funding from Albany.
He’s especially pleased at what he is seeing in his own neighborhood.
“Every school I visit encourages me when it comes to the future of the Bronx. It’s very personal to me – we need a more educated borough. And I am seeing great charters in the Bronx doing robotics with their students as well as sculpture, martial arts, and recording animated voiceovers. Kids in the Bronx learning to program robots and create sculptures - it’s a great thing to see.”
He also said he’s motivated because he knows there is so much potential – but that it isn’t being tapped.
“There should be many more people that came from my neighborhood succeeding. I saw a lot of people near me with potential, but they didn’t have the same opportunities of a great school that I did. People always say: ‘pull yourself up by the boot-straps’ but you can’t do that when you have no shoes.”
Sanchez also longs for a day when the public education system comes together and struggling schools do more to model themselves after schools that are succeeding.
“When I see someone doing something well, I try to emulate them. I don’t try to do less of what they’re doing! Charters have a longer school day and year and to try and overcome an obstacle, you need to work harder and longer to get better. District schools should be doing more of that for the benefit of their kids.”
Work harder and longer – a great motto that Sanchez brings to his new role as he strives to build a better place for city school children to learn and succeed.