Controversial Cobble Hill Charter School Raising Eyebrows

Meeting for Parents Saturday

By Mary Frost

COBBLE HILL — The announcement of a planned charter school to be called Success Academy Cobble Hill is raising the anxiety level of some parents in Community Education District 15 (CEC 15), who fear the school will be co-located inside their local public school. Many plan to attend a meeting to be held this Saturday by the charter school group to air their concerns.

The new Success Academy, part of the network of Success Academies founded by former City Councilwoman Eva S. Moskowitz, originally submitted an application to open in under-performing District 13. After receiving the go-ahead from SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute, however, Moskowitz announced that the school would open in high-achieving Cobble Hill in District 15 instead.

District 15 is considered to be one of the most desirable school districts in Brooklyn. The district extends from Red Hook through Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace and Park Slope.

District 13, further north, includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene and Brooklyn Heights. Success Academy also submitted an application for a separate school in Williamsburg’s District 14.

Success Academy students in Harlem have compiled good records on the state exams, with more than 85 percent of the children scoring at or above grade level in both math and English. But opponents of charter schools in general say they drain investment and support from existing public schools and are given more than their fair share of resources when they share a school’s building.

Critics of the network’s bid to open a charter school on the Upper West Side battled ferociously — though unsuccessfully — to keep a Success Academy from opening in their district.

Bait and Switch?

Moskowitz said in a press release that parents in District 15 have shown strong support for the charter school, with 1,500 positive signatures on a petition. But Jim Devor, parent and president of CEC-15, the governing body for District 15, cries foul.

“Success Academy has implemented – with the full connivance of the Department of Education – an outrageous exercise in bait and switch,” said Devor. He said he was speaking for himself, but “I suspect that my opinion is shared by the council.”

“They deliberately misled SUNY [State University of New York] trustees and regulators into believing they were helping children in need when their true agenda is to create a beachhead in Brownstone Brooklyn. You tell me you can have a hearing in Williamsburg and once you get the charter put it in Sea Gate? Or Sheepshead Bay?”

Devor, who says he has a copy of the petition with the names redacted, says that many of the signers’ zip codes are not even located in District 15. “Some were even from Dallas and Chicago,” he said. Of those who did live in District 15, many lived in the Red Hook or Gowanus, not Cobble Hill.

“The needs in our district are for middle school and high schools,” he said. “Our elementary schools make us one of the top-performing districts in the city. District 13 and 14 are not high-performing districts. It’s a cynical manipulation of the process to advance their ends – certainly not to put children first.”

May End Up in Boerum Hill

While a final decision about the school’s location has not yet been made, the Math and Science Exploratory School (which shares the building with Brooklyn High School of the Arts) at 345 Dean St. has been mentioned as a possible site. Parents there say they fear the move would displace an existing program for autistic kids.

Devor, however, believes Success Academy is eyeing Brooklyn School for Global Studies/Brooklyn School for International Studies at Baltic and Court streets. “They’ll get the best physical plant and the most prime real estate in District 15 – all for the princely rent of $1 a year.”

A spokesperson for Global Studies said the school had no comment.

SUNY Criteria

“We didn’t approve Cobble Hill, but sometimes the initial plans fall through,” said Cynthia Proctor of SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute. “It may be that the applicant had difficulty finding space.” Proctor said that SUNY would have a hearing on the application before giving final approval. “Based on the calls I’ve been getting, we’re going to take a look at it.”

She added that the approval was mainly based on the building being safe and appropriate for school use.

The city Department of Education is also backing Success Academy Cobble Hill. “Kindergarten enrollment in this neighborhood has grown significantly over the last five years, so we want to take the proactive step of proposing a new, excellent elementary school for this community,” Marc Steinberg, the department’s deputy schools chancellor for portfolio planning, said in a news release. “The Success Charter Network is an organization with a strong track record, and we anticipate there will be great interest in this school in the community.”

Saturday Meeting

Moskowitz will be attending the information session on Saturday, Oct. 29, at noon at Carroll Gardens Public Library, 396 Clinton St. (between Sackett and Union streets).

Moskowitz plans to speak about curriculum and the reasons behind the move to Cobble Hill. There will also be time for parents to have questions about the school answered.

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