Innovation Diploma Plus To Stay at Brandeis

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Students, parents and teachers at Innovation Diploma Plus High School are breathing a sigh of relief this week. The Department of Education has withdrawn the proposal to move Innovation Diploma Plus, a kind of last-chance high school for over-aged and at-risk students, from the Brandeis Educational Complex on West 84th Street to a smaller facility in Washington Heights. The vote on whether to make the move was to have taken place last Wednesday, Jan. 16. When the Department of Education proposed this move, they said the new Washington Heights location would provide Innovation students with their own space and would be a shorter commute for many of them. But the idea sparked outrage among the Brandeis community, which consists of three other high schools and a charter elementary school, and within Community Board 7. Opponents argued that moving the high school would make the already disadvantaged students lose access to facilities in and around Brandeis like internships, extracurricular activities, a gym and child care for the school's many teenaged parents. Apparently, their arguments were heard. "We actively engage with and respond to the needs of the community," said Department of Education representative David Pena. "Based on additional input from students, parents and community leaders, Innovation Diploma Plus High School will remain at the Brandeis Campus." Noah Gotbaum, a former president of the Community Education Council district that includes the Upper West Side schools, said the Department of Education had no justification for the proposal in the first place. He had organized a rally to protest it right before the hearing on Dec. 4, attended by over half of the student body, parents, elected officials and community members. "They were basically destroying this incredible program," Gotbaum said. "And that's why you had 100 students come out to the rally and hearing." At the hearing, students presented a video explaining why they want to stay at Brandeis. It was an educational experience for them. "I actually spoke at the hearing, and the Department of Education people weren't even paying attention," said Maria Henriquez, 18, a senior at Innovation Diploma Plus, whose daughter attends the Brandeis daycare. "If we had moved to Washington Heights, everyone would have dropped out. If you take away my education, you take away my child's future!" Among her concerns, she said, were issues of safety. "It's dangerous because there are gangs in that area," Henriquez said. Gotbaum said he thought the Department of Education probably decided to drop the proposal because of pressure from the community, not the testimony of Innovation students. "I am still unhappy that our community and school had to take to the streets to prevent something so egregious," he said. IDP's move apparently did not really suit the Washington Heights community either, said Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller, who said the neighborhood had wanted a science and technical high school in the space. When the proposal to relocate IDP was first floated, many members of the community assumed the program was getting the boot to make room for the Upper West Success Academy Charter School to expand from early elementary to include a middle school. Upper West Success Academy refused to comment. But the idea did not come from nowhere. During the October Community Education Council District 3 meeting, Yael Kalban, a representative with the Department of Education, said that they were planning on making room in Brandeis for an Upper West Success Middle School after IDP moved to Washington Heights. "I don't think IDP is given much priority at all," Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal said. "It's like a sick child. I don't think they anticipated so much community outcry." Rosenthal did say that it is in the Success Academy contract to expand after a certain number of years, and that the community does need another middle school. Gotbaum said that the most likely option would be to open up a middle school when Beacon High School on West on 61st Street moves in two years' time.

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