Mandela School Prepares to Open as Co-Location Controversy Dies Down

By Paul DeBenedetto on June 11, 2014 10:11pm 

 The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice opens in September, and features a social justice curriculum designed to make students responsible "global citizens."
The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice opens in September, and features a social justice curriculum designed to make students responsible "global citizens."
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Chris Jackson/Getty Images (inset) and DNAinfo/Victoria Bekiempis

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A public school inside the Boys and Girls High School campus named after former South African President Nelson Mandela is accepting new students for its inaugural class in September, as the host school's principal eased his criticism of the new co-location.

The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice, which held an open house for prospective parents on Tuesday, will serve ninth graders this fall in a socially-conscious program the Department of Education said will "define their purpose and responsibility as global citizens."

"The mission of the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice is to create life-long, socially conscious leaders who use education as a powerful tool to change the world," reads the school's description in the DOE Directory of New Schools.

"All work within our community is guided by our core values: service, perseverance, leadership, respect, and reflection."

Part of that mission is creating an academic curriculum based around social justice themes, according to the school's website. The school will also include internships with local nonprofits and businesses, and proposed a social justice club, according to the DOE directory.

The school, in the works since late 2013, will be the third school located within the Boys and Girls campus. 

Two weeks after Mandela passed away, the city announced it would name the school after the South African icon— a move that rubbed Boys and Girls Principal Bernard Gassaway the wrong way.

Gassaway, who threatened retirement in October when the new school was still in its planning stages, doubled down on his criticism in December when the name was announced, calling it "opportunistic" and "inappropriate."

On Wednesday, the outspoken principal walked back some of those comments, saying the new school fit with his plans for the future of Boys and Girls.

"The issue was about the timing of the announcement," Gassaway said. "I've been cooperating with the leadership of the school, and I think they're doing a very good job."

It's also his "current intention" to remain principal of Boys and Girls, Gassaway said.

The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice will house about 108 students in its first year before expanding with grades 10, 11 and 12 in subsequent years, according to the DOE.

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