Fight Over Proposed Williamsburg Success Academy Reaches Fever Pitch

By Meredith Hoffman on January 18, 2012 3:24pm 

Parents and community leaders clashed outside JHS 50 over Success Academy.
Parents and community leaders clashed outside JHS 50 over Success Academy.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

WILLIAMSBURG — The battle between parents and community leaders on both sides of the Success Academy Charter School's proposal to share a middle school in Williamsburg reached a fever pitch Tuesday night just before a panel hearing.

Advocates for longtime locals from Williamsburg's South side and recent north side arrivals clashed at a Panel for Education Policy forum at Junior High School 50, the school designated for co-location.

For their part, opponents to the plan said four other elementary schools were already in close proximity to JHS 50, and that Success would drain resources from the high-need middle school.

"You are coming here not to help the school already here," said Rob Solano, executive director of Churches United for Fair Housing, a local advocacy group. "It’s the same building, the same resources."

The location at 275 S. 3rd Street and Driggs Ave. would be the ninth school for Success Academy Charter Schools, which was founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. The school would begin with about 190 students in K—1 grades, and gradually grow to approximately 600 kids in K—4.

A group of parents whose children attend Success Academies in other parts of the city — and hope to get a spot in Williamsburg — were just as vocal in their support. They insisted that the school would give students options not currently available.

"I saw progress in a few months," mother Sandra Ocampo said about her daughter’s time at Success Academy in the Bronx.

The fight over JHS 50 has been building for a while. Just last week, JHS 50 parents met to discuss the the plan. 

"There are already plenty of elementary schools," JHS 50 parent Maribel Rodriguez said then.

The Williamsburg Community Board has voted against the proposal.

The panel is scheduled to vote on the proposal on March 1.

In the meantime, the debate heated up again Tuesday night.

City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who represents part of the district, said the Success Academy's co-location would "further perpetuate the inequality our community has struggled against for decades."

She said more attention needed to be focused on JHS 50 and other local public schools, adding that the proposal show how blind education officials were to the community's needs. And though the panel — which has 13 members, eight of whom are appointed by the mayor — held a public forum, Reyna said the decision was all but done.

"The process you are allowing this community to partake in," she said to the DOE, "has already been implemented."

Meanwhile, Teresa Perez, another Bronx Success Academy mother, came to the hearing to support the expansion.

"You can see nobody in the hallway speaking, nobody running," said Perez, calling the school "amazing" for its educational quality and discipline. "My daughter’s mad when they don’t have class. She always wants to go."

Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Success, insisted the academy had reached out to a diverse population of parents by passing out literature in Spanish and visiting daycare centers in South Williamsburg, among other initiatives. If approved, the school — and all Success Academies, come fall — would include at least 20 percent English Language Learners as students, she said.

Whatever the result, Theresa Doherty, deputy director of nonprofit El Puente, said the hearing gave residents a chance to have their voices heard.

"It’s been one of the criticism of this community, that people aren't engaged," said Doherty. "This shows that’s not true."

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