Locals Blast Charter School's Proposed Co-Location in Williamsburg

By Meredith Hoffman on December 6, 2012 2:17pm 

WILLIAMSBURG — Parents, teachers and politicians Wednesday fiercely contested a proposal to bring a charter elementary school into a building already containing two other schools across from McCarren Park.

Community members said the plan to open Citizens of the World Charter School in the space housing J.H.S. 156 and Believe Northside Charter High School on Leonard Street would starve the middle and high school of space and resources.

"I'm here to protect the space that my son continues to need," said Jairo Guzman, father of a Believe Northside student, at the hearing. "This school is like his family."

Many of the plan's opponents said the charter elementary school — which is looking to open in the fall of 2013 with kindergarten and first-grade classes, eventually expanding to serve grades K to 5 — would divide the community by appealing to Williamsburg's newer, more affluent population. 

"It would encourage segregation," read a letter of opposition from Brooklyn Community Board 1, whose members said the school would draw residents from outside the school district and that the neighborhood did not need another elementary school.

The board's concerns echoed last year's heated opposition to charter school Success Academy's slated co-location with a South Williamsburg public middle school.

"We opposed the charter last year, and the DOE still went forward," board member Esteban Duran said at the meeting. "We don't need to keep building elementary schools."

Local Councilwoman Diana Reyna and other local officials also opposed the plan and maintained that the local public schools need more attention and resources.

But according to the Department of Education's educational impact statement, the Leonard Street building housing J.H.S. 156 and Northside Charter is "underutilized" and Citizens would have plenty of room.

Citizens' public relations director Tara Phillips said that the school would serve a diverse population and provide an important "choice" for parents in the neighborhood.

"We were invited here by a group of District 14 parents... we're a non-profit, not a hedge  fund," she said. "I'm a native of Brooklyn... We're here to partner with the community."

A Department of Education spokesman said the proposal and all comments would be considered.

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