The New York Twenty: Real Charter Champions profiles the everyday people who are the champions to their children: parents and grandparents who make the critical choice to send their kids to charter schools. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing the real stories of charter parents around New York State. Today meet our Western New York Advocacy Manager and charter dad Duncan Kirkwood.
“Every child should have a school that fits them. Families always need options. I’m lucky to have a daughter in a charter school that’s the perfect fit for her, and I am happy to advocate for more families to have these options.”
Duncan Kirkwood is our Western New York Advocacy Manager and a real charter school champion. As an advocate, Kirkwood works every day to engage families and communities to get them more involved and to push for more quality options in cities that desperately need them like Buffalo and Rochester.
A Buffalo native, Kirkwood grew up on the East side and attended Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. He then went south, where he worked in Alabama as the state director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). In his role there he helped increase access to high quality educational options for low-income and working class families, including helping to pass Alabama’s first charter school law.
“The only way to break generational poverty is with education,” Kirkwood said. “Sometimes it seems like the injustice that is happening in our schools is so commonplace that people are numb to it. They need to know we need changes, and when I saw I had a chance to come home to Buffalo and continue this work, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Kirkwood is now back home with his fiancé Carolyn, and their daughter Destini attends the Charter School for Applied Technologies (CSAT), the largest charter school in New York State. The decision to send Destini to a charter school was an easy one.
“Carolyn had heard dozens of horror stories about the school system in Buffalo and worked as a teacher there for a short time. She knows the value of education and wanted something better for her daughter,” Kirkwood explained.
Buffalo has long been in the midst of a schools crisis, and finding a quality option has been a huge relief. CSAT continually out-performs the Buffalo school district on the state’s ELA and math exams, and had a 97% graduation rate last year. Destini loves the school, and her parents have been very satisfied as well.
“They have a dedicated PTA and a staff that gets our child – and all of the other children – excited about school every day. That’s rare to see, especially in our area. It’s even more rare they can do it for 2,000 kids.”
The father of three also has a daughter attending a traditional district school in Buffalo, though she will be attending CSAT next year as well. This has put Kirkwood in the unique position of seeing things like the district-charter funding disparity firsthand, and keeps him constantly in tune with the state of education in the city. That motivates him in his work.
Kirkwood said, “As a parent, a voter and a community member, I care deeply about what is happening in our schools. Charter schools, district schools, whichever option somebody sees as the best fit for their child, they deserve to have a great school.”
Kirkwood sees his role as a way to help more parents get involved. The communities he works in need change fast, and he works to spread the message of equitable funding for charters and more quality options for the families that need them the most.
“I am not going to just sit and wait, I am going to educate other parents and show them that we can demand better. We can push elected officials to make tough decisions; we can support schools to help fill voids. We can be the change that we want to see.”