Monday, October 25, 2010
Parents protest potential charter expansion to UWS
The Success Academy Network, a well known charter school network that operates five schools across Harlem, has applied to open another location on the Upper West Side.
The charter school debate surfaced south of Harlem this week at a crowded Upper West Side Community Education Council meeting that felt more like a protest.
An auditorium at P.S. 145 on 105th Street was full for most of the meeting Wednesday night, which focused on a plan to potentially open a charter school within P.S. 145, also known as the Bloomingdale School.
The Success Academy Network, a well known charter school network that operates five schools across Harlem, has applied to open another location called Upper West Success Academy that could possibly share space in P.S. 145. The city Department of Education says that school is currently only at 59 percent capacity.
This potential location on the Upper West Side marks a shift in the charter school debate from its center in Harlem, where one in five kids now attends a charter school. Proponents of charters, which are public schools run by private boards, have argued that mission-based charter schools provide more choices for parents and superior academics, but critics claim that charters take away resources from traditional schools.
Parents on Wednesday expressed concern about the potential loss of a $11 million grant for District 3 on the Upper West Side—P.S. 145 was one of the schools selected to receive that funding to help increase school enrollment and improve racial integration. Parents and CEC members said they were worried that if P.S. 145 doesn’t have room to expand, that money will be lost.
But Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning at the city DOE, said that they are looking into the grant closely.
“We will not do anything that jeopardizes the magnet grant,” she said, pointing out that in the magnet grant proposal, P.S. 145 only planned to increase its number of enrolled students to 623, still well under the building’s 884-student capacity.
Success Academy’s proposal, which does not specifically deal with its future physical placement, is currently before the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, one of the organizations that approves charters in New York State.
To parents who expressed concerns about out-of-district students creating overcrowding, Rose said that enrollment priority would be given to students south of 110th Street.
Rose continually stressed that parents in the district needed more options and referenced Success Academy’s high test scores and the fact that 20 percent of its students have special needs.
Jenny Sedlis, spokesperson for the Success Charter Network, said that a new school would provide Upper West Side parents with much-needed new options. “It is so hard to find a great public school for your child. The best public schools are overcrowded and difficult to get into,” she said in an email.
Still, there were loud responses when the topic of test scores was raised, and a few times, Noah Gotbaum, president of the Community Education Council, needed to call for order.
In a recent letter to the SUNY Board of Trustees, Gotbaum—who also made his anti-charter stance clear at the meeting—argued that Success Academy has moved into public schools, increased class size, and not properly addressed the needs of special education students.
John LaPolla, a former high school teacher whose child suffers from Down syndrome, also contested the idea that test scores were the best way to measure a school, especially when special needs children are involved. “Think about the value equation of this school and it’s not test performance. It’s the performance of human beings, some of whom have been marginalized for far too long,” he said.
Tina Crockett, president of the P.S. 145 Parents Association, criticized the process. “The organization is coming in to influence the parents to come to a school which hasn’t even been voted on,” she said.
There was a group of pro-charter parents who cheered when Rose reminded the audience that charter schools are public schools, too.
Tensions ran high even before the meeting began when P.S. 145’s principal Ivelisse Alvarez told videographers from Success Academy that they couldn’t record. When they refused to stop filming, parents shouted at the cameramen and blocked their lenses.
Amidst the commotion, Gotbaum said the incident was proof that Success Academy has “a complete disregard for the laws, for the rules, for the community.”
When Gotbaum told the audience that the New York City schools chancellor was currently speaking on the phone to Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, about the incident, there was a loud uproar. “Why is the chancellor speaking to Eva?” Gotbaum asked, turning to the audience. “Does she run this school?”
The videographers were led away by police as some parents cheered. By the end of the meeting, the elementary school auditorium and lobby had around 18 school safety officers present.
Update: Jenny Sedlis from the Success Charter Network, offered a response to the incident that resulted in videographers from SCN being led out by police. Sedlis pointed to the New York State Public Officers Law, which says that any public meeting can be photographed or recorded.