Last night a showdown took place at the school building on Court Street between Baltic and Butler as opponents and fans of a new Cobble Hill charter elementary school turned out in force—while oppositional press conferences took place over two days, successfully grabbing TV spotlights and headlines.
At Tuesday night’s hearing in the newish, pretty nice Carolina blue auditorium for the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, there was screaming, chanting, signs—a man who claimed to be a teacher even started cursing and was arrested and drug from the event by two police officers. The meeting lasted nearly five hours.
The powder keg: The NYC Department of Education has proposed placing a new extension of the academically-rigorious Success Academy Charter elementary schools in the building at 284 Baltic, saying the building, though it houses three schools now, has room. Currently, some 900 students attend, and DOE says the capacity is for 700 more kids. The new school would be for kindergarten to 4th Grade, and it would accept about 100 kids per grade from all over District 15, based on a lottery.
City Councilman Brad Lander, who represents Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, came out against the plan.
“This co-location is a direct attack on the democratic” process involved with public education, Lander said. Success Academy did not apply to open a school in District 15, but instead applied to open in District 13 or 14. The DOE moved the proposed location to Cobble Hill, citing the boom in small children here threatening to crowd PS 29 and PS 58.
“They didn’t come to the community or the CEC [community education council],” Lander said.
The councilman told South Brooklyn Post that lawyers are looking into whether the proposal is legal or not.
Success Academy is run by Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman. Her schools are free, public, accept by lottery, and are among the top performing in the city and state, though opponents argue that kids who cannot follow the rigid rules and requirements are weeded out. The student populations are mostly minority and lower-income, though the Cobble Hill school will likely be less so.
In her years as education committee chair for City Council, Moskowitz criticized the public schools for not teaching science and English, and became an enemy of the teacher’s union.
Success Academy operates nine charter schools in New York City: Five in Harlem, two in the Bronx, one in Bedford-Stuyvessant, and one on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Next year the charter network has been approved (by the state’s SUNY charter authority) to open three more in Brooklyn—one in Cobble Hill, a second in Bedford-Stuyvessant, and one in Williamsburg.
Court and Baltic’s School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies are grades 6 to 12, serving a population that is 70 percent free and reduced lunch, and kids come from as far as Crown Heights and Sunset to attend small class sizes. Global Studies had 30 seniors graduate this year; International Studies had 88. The school also houses a small program for middle and high school kids with autism as well as severe disabilities.
Most of the folks at Tuesday’s meeting were anti-charter school parents, teachers and activists, chanting, “Improve public schools,” and “Give us the money.” Their argument is basically that millions in school dollars are getting budgeted to fund a growing number of city charter schools (125 and counting), while DOE public school budgets are getting slashed. Also, when the city locates charter schools in DOE public schools, the public schools lose space, and/or have to share space, such as cafeterias and gyms. Charters are public schools, and get per-student funding, but they are privately managed (no union teachers, no DOE bureaucracy).
The parents rallying in favor of Success Academy charter held a press conference in the rain before the public hearing. They each said they want a chance for their kids to attend an exceptional school.
Serice Vaughan said she was a mom living in the Gowanus Houses.
“We want success. We want it at Gowanus, and we need it,” she said.
A dad zoned for PS 261 in Boerum Hill said he and his Canadian-Swedish wife are thinking of moving to the suburbs because they want a better school for their kids.
“We all work too hard to settle for mediocrity,” he said.
“Unless you live in an area where you are happy with your zoned school, you have no choice,” said Lisa Chamberlain, of Red Hook, who is zoned for PS 15. “My feeling is that there’s a lot about public schools that need fixing and it’s very difficult to do that.”
(more on this coming. Stay tuned.)