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Parents Fight to Avoid Sharing Space With Charter School

By Jeff Mays | February 1, 2011 5:05pm | Updated on February 1, 2011 5:02pm
A grassroots protest about overcrowding and closures at Harlem schools.
A grassroots protest about overcrowding and closures at Harlem schools.
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By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — The way parent Kim Austin sees it, Frederick Douglass Academy II is already overcrowded. The school shares space with Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts on 114th Street and has almost 30 students in every class.

"Another school will only make it worse," said Austin, whose daughter is an 11th grader at the school. "I like the school because it is small and close to my home. It's getting better each year."

The Panel for Education Policy will vote tonight on whether to close three Manhattan schools and to allow charter school Harlem Success Academy to expand at its current location and later into the 114th Street school.

Parents and teachers at Sojourner Truth School have fought the proposal to allow Harlem Success Academy to add a sixth grade at the West 118th Street building it shares with the school in the coming year. Eventually, the school would add seventh and eighth grades and expand into a new building on West 114th Street that is currently occupied by Wadleigh Secondary School for Performing Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II.

Parents at all three schools say students would be hurt by the expansion of Harlem Success Academy.

"The building is shared already. It's a pretty big school but I don't see enough room for 300 kids to move in there," said Austin, an executive board member of the school's Parent Teacher Association.

Officials from Harlem Success Academy did not return a call for comment, but they have said in the past that they strive to be good neighbors and to help educate area kids.

The Success Charter Network brought 200 people to the hearing at Brooklyn Technical High School. Representatives of the school said dire change is needed in the city's schools to provide a quality education for students of all income levels.

They called on the Bloomberg Administration to close the 500 worst performing schools in the city.

"Mayor Bloomberg has said he prefers for school reform to be an evolution, rather than a revolution – but he only has roughly 1,000 days left as mayor, and we can’t allow several more generations of New York City students to suffer through failure while waiting for the mayor’s schools to evolve," Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of the Success Charter Network, said in a statement.

"We can’t keep protecting failure," said Paola Zalkind, a teacher at Harlem Success Academy 2. "The fact that this city has tolerated such failure in our schools for so long is immoral. We need a leader who is willing to rise above the insanity and fight even harder to bring bolder, faster change to our schools."

Anthony Klug, a social studies teacher at Wadleigh, said the formula the city uses to determine how many students a building could hold did not make sense. He said rooms, such as art and dance studios, should not be counted as underutilized space, especially at a performing arts school.

"The plan is vague and unfeasible," Klug said. "We could use a few more students but to have 300 kids in a separate school will not work."

Councilwoman Inez Dickens is also opposed to the co-location plan.

"The Department of Education cannot continue to punish public schools and students by taking away their remaining resources, and pitting schools and families against one another in the fight for space," she said.

"These are people's children, not a number, not a footprint, and their needs exceed anything a prescribed capacity formula can represent."

Dickens has proposed that Harlem Success Academy look to parochial schools that are closing down as an opportunity for it to consolidate into one building.

Also up for a vote on closure at Tuesday's meeting are the Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School on East 100th St., I.S. 195 Roberto Clemente on West 133rd St., KAPPA II on East 128th St. and Academy of Collaborative Education on West 134th St.

Austin said parents would continue to fight the plan even if the Panel for Education Policy approved the move.

"It's unfortunate we have to spend our time doing this instead of helping our kids," Austin said.