UWS Denounces New Charter Proposal

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Success Academy gets negative feedback at community meeting By Vanesa Vennard Success Academy Charter Schools are looking to add another elementary school on the Upper West Side in District 3 for the 2014-2015 school year. A representative from Success spoke at a recent Community Board 7 meeting to get preliminary feedback on the idea. Members of the board, Community Education Council District 3 reps, and a few parents expressed a unified opinion at the meeting: they weren't interested. Bruce Markens, a grandfather and Upper West Side resident for most of his life, was at the meeting when Upper West Success was being considered to co-locate in Brandeis High School in 2011, a decision that was very unpopular and led to a lawsuit against the Department of Education by a group of parents, elected officials, and other organizations to stop the construction. This time around, Markens said he had déjà vu. "I'm very frustrated," Markens said during the meeting. His grandchild goes to a District 3 school and so did both of his kids. "The political reality is that you guys are going to go to the authorizing agency, and since they don't require that you give them a site, or give very many specifics about the program, you're going to get approval. It's a con game." The charters are approved by SUNY Trustees and are presented to give options to children and parents in an overcrowded community. According to Helen Rosenthal, a member of the community board, there is a major disconnect between Success Academy and the Upper West Side community. Rosenthal said she feels the charters should go into an open, underutilized parochial school such as Holy Name, instead of co-locating in an overcrowded public school. According to Success Academy Charter, the DOE has the say as to where the charter goes. "By bringing in a charter that brings in kids from other districts, they are taking away seats from the public school kids right in that zoned area," Rosenthal said. During the meeting, Rosenthal asked if Success Academy has thought of opening a charter in an independent, vacant building. "Our model is we operate in underutilized public schools," Suchanek said. "Our model is not to seek out other spaces." Rosenthal also asked if the Success Academy has yet identified an underutilized public school in the area they plan on using. Suchanek said they have not. Kerri Lyon, spokesperson for Success Academy Charter Schools, said the reason for co-locating is to fill excess seats, or the controversial underutilized space, in public schools. "Across New York City there are school buildings with hundreds and hundreds of excess seats," she said. "And we should be maximizing the existing space we have to make sure children and families have access to as many high-quality options as possible." PTA President for P.S. 191 Eric Shuffler also reiterated that co-location wasn't a popular choice with him and the attendees at the meeting. "This is District 3, our seats are precious," he said during the meeting. "You'll probably find that it'll be much easier to embrace a proposal if you're not cannibalizing or digging into space that other people need and want. And then we'll all get along." According to a December study on NYC charter schools provided by Lyon, 58 percent of NYC public schools share buildings and only 8 percent of co-located public schools are co-located with charter schools. The study also found that co-located schools are considered the least crowded schools in the city. But according to Community Education Council District 3 President Christine Annechino, co-locating negatively affects public school children. "When you walk into the school, it's just so sad to see," she said, using P.S. 149 in Harlem as an example. There, the charter students' classrooms are freshly painted and they use better technology than the public school kids in the same building, she said. In 2010, Albany raised a cap on charters so that capital improvements the charter makes have to be matched by the City for the public school side. Lyon said Success Academy Charter is trying to meet the overwhelming demand for the charters in District 3. For September, Upper West Success has 130 available seats and already has received 1,800 applications, according to Lyon. The application deadline is April 1. "All the schools we share space with share the same mission, to give our students the best education possible," she said. The meeting ended with a resolution asking Success Academy Charter to consider opening a charter in its own location. "The resolution basically says, if you're serious about our community, and helping our community, we ask you to locate in a space other than an established public school," Rosenthal said.

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