Parents at P.S. 63 Fear Plan to Move a Middle School into Their Building

By Patrick Wall on April 17, 2012 12:33pm 

P.S. 63, located at 1260 Franklin Ave., is currently home to an elementary school. The city wants a new middle school to share space there.
P.S. 63, located at 1260 Franklin Ave., is currently home to an elementary school. The city wants a new middle school to share space there.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

MORRISANIA — Parents predict bullying in the bathrooms and cursing in the lunchroom if the city carries out its plan to make the elementary school P.S. 63 temporarily share space with a new charter middle school.

Parents and one staff member from P.S. 63 Author’s Academy railed against the city’s so-called co-location proposal at a public hearing Monday night, while representatives of Mott Hall Charter School tried to reassure the crowd that the schools could share the building safely.

The Education Department’s plan calls for Mott Hall to occupy an 8,000 square-foot annex building adjacent to P.S. 63, located at 1260 Franklin Ave., for two years while the charter school’s permanent space is under construction. Mott Hall would enroll about 100 sixth-grade students this fall, then would add a seventh-grade class during its second and final year in the building.

The two schools would share a cafeteria, library, auditorium and indoor play areas.

"Parents will have to get chairs and sit in the bathroom, the lunchroom, to make sure their kids are safe," said Rita Jones, a mother of two children who attended P.S. 63, which serves students from pre-k to fifth grade.

Other P.S. 63 parents said they feared the older students would expose their children to foul language, fights and gangs.

"We try to keep our kids away from all that — but now you’re bringing that into our school," said Shirley Millinghouse, who added that her daughter, a fourth-grader at P.S. 63, already worries about the co-location.

"She said, 'Mom, if the big kids come in here, I’m going to be scared to come to school,'" said Millinghouse.

Parents and the school’s technology coordinator, Tracie Abrigo, said that rather than add more students to the building, the city should invest new resources in their school.

The 88-year-old building lacks a gym and a full-time librarian and the computers in its technology lab are nearly a decade old, said Abrigo, who has worked at P.S. 63 for 12 years.

The annex building currently houses P.S. 2, a fifth-grade school, but that school is currently in the final year of a phase-out and will close at the end of the school year.

At the hearing, Mott Hall Charter School’s executive director, Bob Lesser, said his school would "work collaboratively" with P.S. 63, while providing more middle school options for local parents.

"We’re here to give the best middle school that we can to this community, which needs good middle schools," Lesser told the crowd.

The school’s founding principal, Geovanti Steward, who currently heads the Mott Hall Community School in Throgs Neck, also addressed the crowd of P.S. 63 supporters, many of whom wore blue "Parent Involvement Day 2012" T-shirts.

After the hearing, Steward and Lesser said the "Mott Hall model" is highly structured, with students engaged in hands-on work throughout the day, and where any movement outside the classrooms is "coordinated and supervised."

"At the end of the day, it's about the adults in the building who are responsible for the kids," Lesser said.

The new charter is modeled after the original Mott Hall School, a National Blue Ribbon School founded in Harlem in 1985, according to the school's website.

A series of Mott Hall spinoff schools have since been opened around the city, including Mott Hall elementary, middle and high schools in the Bronx. Mott Hall Charter School, approved by the New York State Education Department in 2010, will be the first charter based on the Mott Hall model.

Lesser said the new school, like other Mott Hall schools, will emphasize "21st-century" technology skills. It will also feature an extended school day and year, healthy food and the International Baccalaureate program, which calls for lessons guided by student questioning and requires foreign language instruction.

Last Friday, Mott Hall held a lottery to select 100 students out of 127 who applied for a space in its inaugural class, Lesser said.

Lesser was previously the vice president of operations and new school development at Replications Inc., a nonprofit that began by opening new schools based on the Mott Hall model, then later contracted with the DOE to provide support services to existing schools.

In 2011, the DOE announced that it would not renew its contract with the organization due to poor performance by some of the schools in its support network, according to GothamSchools.

The city's Panel for Educational Policy, an oversight board that typically approves DOE plans, will vote on the co-location proposal April 26.

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