School Rezoning Plan Leaves Room for Charter

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by dan rivoli

p.s. 145, is according to the department of education and principal ivelisse alvarez, a good school.

the city gave p.s. 145, located on 150 w. 105th st. between amsterdam and columbus avenues, a b in this year's progress report card. though the school received poor marks for school environment and student performance, it achieved an a in student progress.

yet a charter school-often viewed as an alternative in areas with failing public schools-is being planned to open up in p.s. 145's building.

success academy, a charter school network with locations in harlem and the south bronx, is seeking a spot in the upper west side and recently, the city deemed p.s. 145 "underutilized".

student enrollment at the school-currently at 59 percent capacity-declined to 431 this school year, from 524 in 2006.

alvarez, the school's principal, sees the situation inside p.s. 145 differently.

"you can say it's underutilized, but on the basis of what?" alvarez said. "the classes are being used, the rooms are being used."

the principal at p.s. 145 believes that a charter school occupying the school building will hamper future expansion plans. she wants to grow the school so that it includes k through the 8th grade.

this year, the school received part of an $11 million, three-year federal grant awarded to eight upper west side schools in late september. the funding, $3.7 million for the district this year, is meant to help these "magnet" schools attract a diverse set of students. p.s. 145's student body is mostly black and latino.

"it's not a failing school and there shouldn't be a charter school in the building," alvarez said.

the city, however, seems intent on keeping student enrollment at p.s. 145 low.

the department of education presented a draft redrawing of school zones in the neighborhood's school district oct. 14. p.s. 145 was the only school to keep its boundaries in the draft rezoning.

"p.s.145 has been identified as an underutilized building. it is the only one on the upper west side," elizabeth rose, a department of education official, told a crowd of parents and educators at a recent community education council meeting. "underutilized buildings are very rare."

the school zones are being changed to ease overcrowding in the southern part of the upper west side school district where there are waitlists. crowded schools like p.s. 199 and 87 in the west 60s and 70s had their zones shrunken, while the catchment area for p.s. 75 on west 96th street grew.

alvarez wants p.s. 145's catchment area expanded to attract new students.

"we don't have that many blocks in the school zone to register children from," alvarez said.

eva moskowitz, the former east side council member who is the ceo of the success academy charter schools, said that upper west side parents need a choice now and cannot wait years to see if p.s. 145's enrollment increases.

"parents need options now. their 5 year old can't wait five years," moskowitz said. "what are we going to tell parents on the upper west side, 'well this school might expand so we're not going to use the 300 seats'?"

in new york city, charter schools have proliferated in economically disadvantaged areas. but moskowitz believes parents in the upper west side should be able to send their children to a charter school as well.

"even parents of means have a very anxiety-producing challenge and i didn't think that should be the case," moskowitz said. "there's nothing in the charter law that says you're only supposed to serve the most disadvantaged."

noah gotbaum heads the parent body that holds meetings on education policy, known as a community education council. the council has to vote on the new rezoning map for the 2011 school year.

gotbaum, a critic of success academy charter schools in harlem, is supporting alvarez, the p.s. 145 principal.

"they also want to be able to grow their school, which is a terrific school and use this federal money to really draw in students," gotbaum said. "harlem success will stop this in its tracks."

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