Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Impressions And Testimonies From Tuesday Night's Hearing On Proposed Success Academy Co-Location At IS 293

IS 293 on Baltic Street

I was unable to attend Tuesday night's hearing on the proposed co-location of at the Success Academy Charter School at IS 293 at 293 - 284 Baltic Street in the Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill neighborhood.  The school building currently houses School for Global Studies and School for International Studies building. The proposal has generated quite a bit of controversy.
My good friend C, a current public school mom, who is incredibly well informed about all matters pertaining to education, was at the hearing and agreed to share her impression on the meeting.  
She writes:
"I think that District 15 parents (not all of whom have children in the Baltic St. site) and community members are upset about the lack of courtesy displayed by the Department Of Education along with a lack of process. As I understand it, this charter application was originally made in Districts 13 and 14. Its intended purpose was to serve high needs children in failing schools. From last nights testimony, it did not seem that there was any meaningful search to find a suitable site in either of those districts. According to the SUNY Charter Institute attorney, since the application was already approved by them Success Charter Network is free to take the application to any district in the borough since the public outreach requirement was already fulfilled in other districts. Theoretically, Success Charter Network could take the application to Marine Park. I guess this means that parents who have children in failing schools in Districts 13 and 14 will not be getting the charter they were promised.

It seemed difficult for the Community Education Council (CEC) to elicit plans for the charter school. The purpose of the application seems to be amorphous. Even the name keeps changing. It isn't clear whether this charter will be a K-5 or a K-8. In any event, the DOE projects that once the the charter enrolls a fourth grade the building will reach 108% capacity. To paraphrase District 15 Community Education Council member Jim Devor - are we going to have a group of fifth graders wandering around Cobble Hill in search of classroom. If the DOE has an additional site in mind for the fifth graders they certainly are keeping it a secret from the community. Of course by that time in 2016 Bloomberg and most of Tweed suits will be long gone so what do they care.

Parents and teachers from both Global Studies and International Studies spoke about the negative impact this would have on their children's education. How would the supporters of the charter school feel if their middle school child's gym class suddenly increased from 60 to 100 students because the DOE decided to co-locate a school. Will the librarian have to adapt her library to accommodate elementary school students and therefore lose space that is dedicated to middle and high school students. Will Success Charter be providing their own school psychologist or be using one who has more experience with adolescents? Parents also had concerns about cafeteria usage and the fact that the last lunch period will end at 2:30 which is of particular concern to parents of children who have IEPs.

The students who spoke gave the most compelling testimony of the evening and they did not hesitate to call out Marc Sternberg who is in charge of school closings and c0-locations. (Note: This summer Marc Sternberg sent an email to his DOE colleagues inviting them to a Happy Hour at the Tribeca Tavern to celebrate a court ruling that the DOE could close 15 schools and open co-locations. Can you imagine if you were a student at student at one of the closing schools and heard that DOE employees were celebrating your school's closing?). One student told him that in school students are taught to double check and asked Sternberg if he had double checked the space in the building. No one from the DOE has even visited the school building to see how space is being used. Another student said she had seen "Waiting for Superman" and visited co-located charters and that it seemed to her that the DOE took from those with the least when instead the DOE should be reaching into their pockets and providing needed funding to the existing schools.

I ran into a parent I know from my elementary school parent days. The DOE placed their child in International Studies for sixth grade even though it wasn't one of the listed choices. They stuck it out and it turned out to be such a positive experience that the child decided to stay for high school. The parent could not say enough positive things about Principal Fred Walsh and his dedication to his students.

There were only a handful of parents that spoke in favor of the charter school. One parent who spoke has a child in the new Upper West Success. He claimed that space is not an issue and that the student performance at the high schools has improved since Success Charter has been there. Of course space isn't an issue. Yet. Brandeis will be graduating its last class this year and the three other schools are still adding grades and have not reached their full enrollment. Upper West Success only has a Kindergarten and first grade as of now. I am not sure what criteria is being used to measure high school student performance unless it is anecdotal and one of the new high schools is highly selective.

Both Councilmember Brad Lander and Assemblywoman Joan Millman gave excellent testimony. I was chatting with someone outside during Councilmember Steve Levin's testimony so I missed it but I heard it was also very good.

Dennis Walcott made a brief appearance and tucked himself away in a corner seat where hardly anyone noticed him. Eva Moskowitz showed up for five minutes and then left.

And in yet another display of the disregard that the DOE has for District 15 families, the DOE has relocated the Panel for Education Policy meeting where this proposal will be voted on to Corona. As of this morning, there was nothing on the PEP's agenda pertaining to Queens."

I would like to thank C for taking the time to report on this very important meeting. I value her well-informed opinion on this matter.

Below is the testimony given by Assemblywoman Joan Millman at the same meeting.  She has come out against the co-location of the Cobble Hill Success Academy in IS 293.
joanstestimony copy
City Councilmember Brad Lander also spoke against the proposed co-location as well.  Below please find his testimony:
"Good evening. I am grateful for the opportunity to present this testimony to representatives of the Community Education Council of District 15, the Panel for Educational Policy, Chancellor Walcott and the Department of Education, and the SUNY Charter School Institute. I am a New York City Councilmember representing most of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, and a substantial portion of District 15. While I do not represent IS 293 (the eastern boundary of my district in Cobble Hill is at Court Street), this issue is of great concern to my constituents. I am also a District 15 public school parent, with kids at PS 107 and MS 51 in Park Slope.
I am opposed to the co-location of a Success Academy Charter School at IS 293, and I urge you to reject it.
I am not universally opposed to charter schools, and I am not here tonight to raise particular complaints about Success Academy. Where public schools are consistently failing to meet the educational needs of the full range of students in our communities, then it is appropriate for us as a city to explore a wide range of options to make sure those needs are met. Our responsibility to meet the educational needs of the citizens and leaders of tomorrow is one of the sacred trusts of a democratic society.
However, our first goal should be to guarantee a successful, appropriate, high-quality public school option for all our kids. Brooklyn’s District 15 has an extraordinary track record of providing just that. PS 29, PS 58, and PS 261 (and many more) serve the proposed area with excellent neighborhood public schools. Non-zoned schools like the Brooklyn New School and the Brooklyn Children’s School provide options for parents looking for particular educational approaches, including diversity and inclusion. And programs like the ASD/NEST programs at PS 32 and MS 447 offer options for students with special needs.
This did not happen by accident. It is the result of hard work over many years on the part of a dedicated network of administrators, principals, teachers, parents, community leaders, and volunteers. School leaders, district leaders, community school board and CEC leaders, parent leaders, and elected officials across District 15 share a sense of democratic responsibility for meeting the educational needs of all kids in our community’s public schools.
In my opinion, the proposed location of a Success Charter school at IS 293 is a direct attack on that effort. In place of our shared democratic responsibility, the DOE would substitute a laissez faire market approach. “Don’t try to step up as a community and take responsibility for meeting the needs of a diverse range of kids in your public schools,” this siting says. “Instead, let market-mechanisms work their magic, undermine community, promote competition, and hope that every individual can fend for themselves.” Sadly, this is consistent with the DOE’s systematic dismantling of community school districts, which has made it far harder for the educational community of support that exists across our district to meet its goals. To be sure, many community school districts did not rise to their democratic responsibility, and additional approaches to accountability were needed as a result. But in places like District 15 – where the public schools are working, public school innovation is helping to meet a broad range of needs, and principals, teachers, and parents are working together – foisting a charter school, without local roots, over strong community objection, is an attack on democratic public education. That is why you are seeing such strong and diverse opposition.
This is especially glaring in light of the fact that Success Charter did not apply to New York State for charter schools in District 15 and did not undertake community outreach in District 15 at the time of the application – but instead applied for charters and conducted outreach in Districts 13 and 14. This is a clear violation of the spirit, and quite likely the letter, of the State’s Charter School Law. But more than that, it shows contempt for the whole idea that communities matter. Does the DOE, or Success Charter, or SUNY, really believe that every school and every neighborhood is simply interchangeable, that it doesn’t matter what you propose, or where you do your outreach?
To me, communities – and their educational priorities – matter. In District 15, we do need to address primary school overcrowding – but the data shows quite clearly that the key areas of overcrowding are in South Park Slope and Sunset Park. We need at least one additional middle school in the southern half of the district. We need additional options for English Language Learners and students with IEPs. We must address these needs, and we need the DOE’s partnership to do so – but none of them are best met by this proposal.
In addition, I am concerned about the impact of the proposed co-location on the two existing schools in the K293 building. The addition of the proposed charter would result in overcrowding at the building – threatening the education of all children involved. I do not believe there is enough room in the building to accommodate the two current schools plus a K-8 Success Charter School. It would force a substantial increase in class size, compromises to the program that is in place for students with special needs, and severe strains on common spaces like the cafeteria and gym, especially given the challenges of having students from ages 4 to 18 seeking to share them.
Last year, when the DOE proposed the co-location of Millennium Brooklyn High School in the John Jay Campus, I did not oppose it. I asked you to address historic inequities and the well-founded grievances of the existing schools. However – despite a strong community outcry – I did not urge you to reject that proposal. That proposal, while contentious, was rooted in goals that had been expressed by the community – not made up with marketing and push-polling from an outside organization with its own agenda, but instead long-established in the community through dialogue and organizing. Quite simply, that is not the case here.
So I urge you to avoid needless polarization and lawsuits, wasted energy that could be spent instead further improving many other schools, and further harm to the spirit and practice of democratic education that is alive and well here in District 15. Please reject the proposed co-location of Success Charter."

1 comment:

nishis said...

This morning I saw someone on the Bergen St. subway platform asking for signatures to a petition in favor of the Charter school. When asked the question "Will it be located in the building" he replied "Honestly, I'm not sure". Now I don't know if he was being deceptive or not, but if he couldn't even answer that, I would not take the resulting petition seriously.