Controversial Charter School Gets Thumbs Down From UWS Community Board
By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Upper West Siders battling a charter school that wants to open in their neighborhood sent another strong message of disapproval Tuesday as Community Board 7 voted against a city plan to put Upper West Success Academy into a public high school building.
The community board has no power to change the situation, but the vote marks another chapter in the controversy surrounding Upper West Success Academy's move to the Upper West Side.
Charter school officials say the new school will provide high-quality public school options for families in one of the city's most crowded districts.
The charter school has attracted 584 applicants.
The Department of Education wants to put Upper West Success Academy inside the Brandeis High School building on West 84th Street, which is already home to five high schools including the neighborhood's newest, the Frank McCourt High School.
The high school, named for "Angela's Ashes" author Frank McCourt, was a pet project of local officials including City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. They worry that if Upper West Success Academy moves into the building, Frank McCourt High School won't have room to grow.
Brewer spoke passionately Tuesday about her fight to open Frank McCourt High School, a project that required $22 million in renovations to the Brandeis building, she said. That investment would be jeopardized if Upper West Success Academy moves its kindergartners into the building, Brewer said.
The Department of Education says there's enough space in the building for the new school. A DOE report says the building is "under-utilized," and has 300 seats available. Brandeis High School is in the process of closing and will be phased out over the next three years.
Critics claim Success Charter Network, the group of schools that includes Upper West Success Academy, has a poor track record of sharing space with existing public schools.
Success Charter Network officials have said that's not true. At a Community Board 7 meeting last month, spokeswoman Jenny Sedlis said horror stories about existing public schools losing space to charter schools were exaggerated.
"The stories in the media tend to be a handful of people who are upset that may not reflect the entire community," Sedlis said last month.
At Tuesday's Community Board 7 meeting, a teacher and social worker from P.S. 241 — which shares space with a Success Charter Network school — repeated their claim that since the charter school moved in, they've had to move existing public school students into basement classrooms next to the boiler room.
"I serve some of our neediest children in a closet," said P.S. 241 social worker Darren Marelli.
The Department of Education's Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on whether to move Upper West Success into the Brandeis building at a Feb. 1 meeting.
Success Charter Network officials didn't attend Tuesday's Community Board 7 meeting and did not comment directly on the community board's vote.
In an e-mailed statement, Sedlis said "residents of this community are voting with the feet and demanding another high-quality public school option for their kids."