Emotions Explode at Raucous Cobble Hill Charter School Hearing

Majority of Parents Oppose Proposal

Emotions ran high at a raucous charter school co-location hearing Tuesday night in Cobble Hill, where former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz plans to open a new Success Academy charter school at a site housing three existing public schools. Eagle photo by Mary Frost .

By Mary Frost

COBBLE HILL — Catcalls, boos and cries of “Shame!” accompanied testimony at a raucous charter school co-location hearing Tuesday night in Cobble Hill, where former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz plans to open a new Success Academy charter at a site that houses three existing public schools.

Education officials, teachers, parents and students testified for hours in the auditorium at 184 Baltic St. (at Court Street) before Department of Education (DOE) and SUNY officials. Brooklyn School for Global Studies, School for International Studies and P.S. 368 for special ed children are located at the site.

One angry man who said he was a teacher was escorted out by police officers as the crowd heckled SUNY’s charter school attorney, Tom Franta, who defended Success Academy’s plan to fit grades K-4 into the facility.

Parent Melinda Martinez said, “I have four children at International Studies, two in middle school and two in high school. Sharing space is already a problem. Cutting classrooms and adding more students to classes means my kids will not receive the same type of education they’ve been receiving.”

While hundreds of parents and officials were firmly and vocally against the co-location of Success Academy at the site, roughly a half-dozen supporters held a press conference before the hearing.

Serise Vaughan, who says she supports the new charter school, says her child is zoned for P.S. 32 at Hoyt and President streets. “They have trailers outside in the playground. The kindergartners through second-graders don’t have space to play there.” She said that she learned about Success Academy when “they were giving out flyers in the Gowanus Houses.”

At Least 108 Percent Capacity

DOE’s Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said that enrollment at the new Success Academy would ultimately increase to somewhere between 500 and 640 students, ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. A planned fifth grade will not fit into the building, which will be at 108 percent capacity by 2016, according to the DOE.

But these figures do not account for any growth at the original three schools, parents and teachers said. “Last year we took an F school and turned it to a B,” said Dr. Clare Daley, the technology teacher at the School for Global Studies. She explained that Global Studies is in the midst of a major turnaround using a federal transformation grant.

Daley said that scores had increased dramatically “through the tireless efforts of faculty, students and the new administration. The building is utilized from 7:30 in the morning to 6 at night and sometimes later” with after-school programs, a culinary program, athletic teams and early morning programs, she said.

“All of the common spaces within the three schools are already maxed out. We are now a desirable high school, and we will continue to grow. But we will not be allowed to grow with another school in the building,” she said. Jeff Trip, who teaches at International Studies, said that programming is already hard to carry out at the school.

“There’s one gym, one library and one cafeteria. Kids from Global and International Studies need P.E. credits to graduate on time — and for physical and behavioral health. But DOE plans to give Success Academy one third of the gym time the first year, when they will only have a kindergarten and first grade in the building. That is only year one. How will our students get time in the gym as they expand?”

Jim Devor, president of District 15’s Community Education Council, repeatedly pressed the SUNY Charter Institute’s Tom Franta to explain how the school could open in District 15 when it was originally approved for District 13. Franta said that the Charter Institute had no problem with locating the school anywhere in Brooklyn. “A move within Brooklyn is not considered a material change,” he said, “only a change in name or an at-risk design factor.”

Devor disagreed with Franta when the latter claimed that District 15 students would get first preference at the school. “They won’t. On page 10 of your EIS [environmental impact statement], specific preferences are listed. District 15 students attending failing schools get priority, along with ELL [English-language learners]. There’s no way to populate this school with only District 15 students who attend failing schools — there are only three failing schools in District 15.”

The DOE official in charge of new schools, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, said that enrollment at the charter school would ultimately increase to somewhere between 500 and 640 students. The total number of students in the building would climb to 1,400 or more, he added.

In a complicated exchange, Sternberg appeared to admit, in response to Devor’s questioning, that it was Moskowitz, Success Academy’s founder, who chose the location for the school — not DOE. Additionally, while the original application specified that the school was designed for high-needs, under-served children in District 13 or 14, Franta said that Success Academy indicated it may try to change that specification.

Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D-Park Slope/Cobble Hill) said, “It’s time to stop expanding charters. It’s actively undermining the public school system, draining money and resources and destabilizing existing schools. We need to put a halt to this game of musical chairs, where we’re getting hundreds of schools opening and dozens closing every year.”

Brennan said that charter schools drained $100 million from the education budget “that could have been retained to reduce the impact of budget cuts to the public school system. Every time we expand charter schools, the public school system loses money.”

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