By Jon Schuppe
HARLEM — Parents and teachers came out in force Monday night to protest a plan that would allow a Harlem Success Academy charter school to expand into classrooms already occupied by traditional public schools.
Most of the protesters represented Sojourner Truth School, which shares space with Harlem Success Academy on West 118th Street and would lose classrooms to the charter school.
In a public hearing that turned raucous at times, parents said their kids were already treated as second-class citizens. They complained of children being crammed into morning lunch periods, crowded out of stairwells between classes, and reprimanded for straying into charter school hallways.
"How much more space do they have to take, and why do my children have to suffer?" asked Tavia Turner, a mother of four Sojourner Truth students.
The city’s proposal would allow Harlem Success Academy, now a K-5 school, to add a sixth grade next year by taking more classrooms at the West 118th Street building. Then, in the 2012-2013 school year, Harlem Success Academy would expand into the seventh and eighth grades and create a new middle school to house its top four grades. That school would be located at a different building, on West 114th Street, which currently houses Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II.
Representatives of Wadleigh and Frederick Douglass Academy, located at 149th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, also said they opposed the plan.
The hour-long hearing was held in the West 118th Street school’s auditorium, which was decorated by Sojourner Truth supporters with posters that said "We need our space" and "Would you let someone kick you out of your school?"
Harlem Success Academy representatives said they were trying to be good neighbors and touted students' performances on standardized tests.
"We want to continue to serve this community and continue to be an option for the people of this community," said Jenny Sedlis, director of external affairs for the Success Charter Network.
The Harlem Success Academy schools have been acclaimed in documentary films that tout education reform. And they have been attacked by critics who accuse the organization of undermining traditional public schools. The network's proposed expansion into the Upper West Side has also met stiff resistance.
At Sojourner Truth, representatives of the local school leadership team and district council said the Department of Education didn't provide sufficient public notice of the meeting. They suggested they might submit a legal challenge.
Sojourner Truth teachers wore yellow armbands that read "Save our School." They accused Harlem Success Academy of rejecting children with behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
Parents of children from Harlem Success Academy challenged those accusations, saying they saw no evidence of it. The crowd responded with jeers.
People on both sides urged more civility, noting that their students all came from the same neighborhood.
Sabrina Williams, parent of a child at Harlem Success Academy, said she hoped the warring sides would "find middle ground…where all of our children will be able to perform at the highest levels."
A second public hearing on the plan will be held Jan 24 at the Wadleigh building. A vote on the plan by the city’s Panel for Educational Policy will be held Feb. 1.