Harlem Parents Vow to Fight Charter School Expansion

By Jeff Mays on February 2, 2011 12:39pm | Updated on February 2, 2011 5:02pm

Parents and teachers of Sojourner Truth School students came out in force against Harlem Success Academy's expansion plan.
Parents and teachers of Sojourner Truth School students came out in force against Harlem Success Academy's expansion plan.
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DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe

By Jeff Mays

DNAInfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Parents of students at two school buildings where Harlem Success Academy will be allowed to expand said they planned to fight the decision made by the Panel for Education Policy.

The decision, which followed a raucous meeting filled with more than 2,000 people at Brooklyn Technical High School, means that Harlem Success Academy will be allowed to add a sixth grade at the West 118th Street building it shares with Sojourner Truth School in the coming year.

Eventually, the school would add seventh and eighth grades and expand into a new building on West 114th Street that is currently occupied by Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II.

"I feel that our interests were not represented at that panel. The panel was appointed by Bloomberg, including the parents, and they were not representative of the Harlem community," said parent Kim Austin, whose daughter is an 11th grader at Frederick Douglass Academy II. "We are going to file a formal appeal, protest and do whatever we need to do." 

Tatianna Davis' daughter will graduate from Wadleigh this year and plans to attend college in the fall.

"I'm disheartened but glad my children are coming out of the public schools because parents have no say," said Davis. "I know it was a done deal at the first meeting no matter how we speak out as parents."

Davis said she is concerned that the merger with the charter school was the first step toward closing Wadleigh.

"I'm not against charters because parents need choice," Davis said. "But it seems there is more emphasis on charter schools than public schools. We are a performing arts school and we have the potential to do a lot for our community."

Anthony Klug, a social studies teacher at Wadleigh, said teachers there were upset that the changes were approved.

"As a teacher, I am dismayed. This is going to cripple our arts program and destroy our ability to offer a rich curriculum," said Klug.

He said everything from lunch, to the ability of students to traverse the hallways to get to class safely, would be affected.

"This is not an issue about charter schools, it's about not supporting schools. You would think the Department of Education would assist a school that is struggling. Instead, they are crowding in another school that can in no way assist us," Klug said.

Representatives from Success Charter Network said they saw things differently. 

They cite Harlem Success Academy's high scores in citywide math testing and said the school buildings they are moving into are underutilized. Parents line up on waiting lists to get their kids into the school, the representatives said.

"The Panel for Educational Policy clearly heard the demands of thousands of families citywide for more high-quality school choices. Every family in the City deserves access to an excellent school, and the PEP's vote last night will move us toward providing just that," said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Success Charter Network.

Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens was upset about the decision.

"Public schools find themselves at a marked disadvantage during the current fiscal crisis," she said in a statement. "To then ask these schools to shrink their physical space within a building to make room for schools privy to private endowments adds insult to injury."

Dickens' spokesperson Lynette Velasco said the councilwoman was now considering options to fight the ruling.

"We are going to regroup. We plan to speak with parents and are going to think about our next steps," said Velasco.

The closure of four Harlem schools was also approved at the meeting.

They are: Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School on East 100th Street, I.S. 195 Roberto Clemente on West 133rd Street, KAPPA II on East 128th Street and Academy of Collaborative Education on West 134th Street.

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