UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Education is moving too slowly in deciding what will move into the Beacon High School building when it is vacated next year — raising concerns that the future school could fail, education leaders said this week.
The Upper West Side community has already rallied around a proposal to put a middle and high school in the building, but DOE officials have not yet responded with a formal plan.
At a City Council Education Committee meeting on Tuesday, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm told City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal that "the department has not yet reached the point where it has decided what is going in that building."
Grimm's admission came months after staff members from the DOE's Division of Portfolio Planning accused locals of moving too slowly in deciding the future of the West 61st Street space at a meeting last October.
"We’ve been waiting to hear from the community," said the DOE's Yael Kalban at the meeting.
Now, the tables have turned as community leaders are railing against the education department for waiting more than three months to decide on a plan for the space.
The current Beacon High School is moving to Hell's Kitchen in the fall of 2015 because of overcrowding, and parents and education leaders are worried that there won't be enough time to get the new school in the space off the ground.
"I’m deeply concerned," City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal told Community Education Council District 3 members Wednesday night regarding the holdup.
In December, after more than a year of public debate, the CEC resolved that the DOE should create a new middle and high school in the building. This came after two community hearings, Community Board 7-led working group meetings and multiple Community Education Council sessions that were all devoted to arriving at a collective vision for a new school in the Beacon space.
"Honestly I don’t understand what’s holding it back," Rosenthal told Grimm on Tuesday. "All I see is a history of last-minute schools going in and failing."
Education leaders have said the tone and timing with which a school debuts is critical. They pointed to past new school failures like West Prep Academy, which they said launched in a hurry in 2009 and became a "lawless" place, until a new principal took the reigns and the school relocated.
Parents and CEC members want to see a leader for the new school selected in plenty of time to sell it to parents and students who would apply to it next fall. They also want the school listed alongside others in a booklet put out by the DOE this spring that lists middle schools. Without those kinds of endorsements, the school could become a catchall for students and parents who aren't excited about its mission and are instead there by default, they said.
"We passed a resolution in December," CEC President Joe Fiordaliso told Rosenthal. "We’ve been concerned and frustrated by the inaction in the past couple months."
The CEC plans to write a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña stating that a new school has the community's full support and does not warrant extended review.
"This new school has a green light [from the community]," Fiordaliso said.
When asked about the delay, DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield declined to address the issue.
"We are dedicated to listening and being responsive to the needs of communities like never before," he said in a statement, "and that commitment will be reflected as we review the future use for the Beacon building.”