06/20/2013 11:57 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

In Support of Public Education

As we approach the last day of the school year, I wanted to share some thoughts about education.

As a student, as a teacher and as an activist, education has deeply impacted my work. Knowledge is power, as they say, and like the practice of law, education is a tool that can empower people and communities to reach their fullest potential.

I graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a degree in Women's Studies in 1990. I could not have done this without the commitment to public education that existed at that time. I have since then worked to ensure that others have the same opportunity. After finishing my Masters Degree (in U.S.-Asian Studies), I traveled to South Korea to teach as a visiting professor at a local university. The experience taught me a great deal -- including how difficult and vital the role of a teacher is. It also taught me a respect for learning, and the importance of getting outside of oneself to see the bigger picture.

When I returned to New York City, I took what I had learned and founded Hello World Language Center, a progressive language and culture resources center that still draws students to NYC from all over the world. We built an alternative education center where teachers were valued and learning was student centered. We rigorously assessed our teachers and students. But those assessments were based on real, holistic progress, not on square-peg metrics and high-stakes tests.

Based in part on the success of the Hello World model, I was invited to teach as an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education. There I taught graduate seminars to fellow educators on bringing student-centered techniques to NYC Public Schools. I also completed a law degree at Brooklyn Law School, and using the principles that I learned through teaching, founded a civil rights law firm. As an attorney I worked to oppose unsustainable development plans in my community, like the NYU expansion and the St. Vincent's plan which have contributed to the overcrowding in our public schools.

I am now a candidate for New York City Council from the neighborhoods I love on Manhattan's West Side. This too, is an opportunity to give back to the public education system that has given me so much. First and foremost, we must commit to invest in public education. That means supporting teachers and parents, not undercutting them. It means giving our community and our educators the tools to teach the whole child, not just teach to the test. Music, art, athletics, speech, debate, and more are essential to educate our kids in a changing world. As we look to empower the next generation, we must remember that our students' success depends on our willingness to advocate for public education.