Charter School Opening in Shuttered Lower East Side Catholic School

By Serena Solomon on July 17, 2013 9:20am 

 Kristin Levine, head of Great Oaks Charter School on the LES, began hanging up college pennants to get her students focused on higher education.
Kristin Levine, head of Great Oaks Charter School on the LES, began hanging up college pennants to get her students focused on higher education.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

LOWER EAST SIDE — A New Jersey-based charter school is opening on the Lower East Side next month in a building that previously housed a Catholic school.

Great Oaks Charter School, a middle and high school that started in Newark and focuses on preparing students for college, will launch in the former St. James & St. Joseph Elementary School at 1 Monroe St. on Aug. 26.

The school will start with nearly 100 sixth-graders and will continue adding a grade per year. Great Oaks Charter School hopes to move the program to Governors Island in 2015.

"We are decorating the halls with college pennants," said Kristin Levine, 28, head of the new LES location. "That is starting the college preparation culture right away in the sixth grade."

The school has filled 90 of its 99 spots so far, with priority going to those who learned English as a second language, said Levine, who has been teaching since 2006 and recently moved to New York after working for the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago.

Great Oaks Charter School's educational philosophy is based on the high-achieving Match Schools in Boston, with all students receiving two hours of individual or small-group tutoring every day.

Great Oaks Charter School will lease its new space from the Archdiocese of New York, which shuttered the Catholic school in June along with 21 other financially struggling parochial programs.

"We signed the lease about a month ago, but we had been courting them for a little while," Levine said.

The charter school will pay the archdiocese $200,000 the first year, along with $50,000 for furniture, and pay $400,000 the second year, after the school grows to include sixth and seventh grades.

The revenue generated by the lease will be reinvested in other Catholic schools, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese said.

Great Oaks Charter School's funding comes from the New York State Education Department, which sponsors the school's charter, Levine said.

The school hopes to relocate to Governors Island after two years on the Lower East Side and has submitted a proposal as part of a competitive bidding process, Levine said.

The New York Harbor School, a maritime-focused public high school, is already located on the island.

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