By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Despite months of protests from Upper West Side parents and officials, the Panel for Educational Policy voted early Wednesday to open charter school Upper West Success Academy inside the Brandeis High School building this fall.
The PEP vote marked the end of a contentious approval process for Upper West Success Academy, the newest school in former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz's Success Charter Network.
Parents in District 3, which stretches from West 59th Street to West 122nd Street, opposed the charter school's move into a public school building because they fear Upper West Success Academy will drain resources away from existing public schools.
They say Success Charter Network schools have a poor track record of sharing space with other public schools.
Starting last October when news broke that Success Charter Network planned to move into District 3, opponents staged rallies and lined up support from a range of elected officials including City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, State Senator Tom Duane and State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal.
At Tuesday's PEP, Success Charter Network made its own show of support, with 2,000 parents, teachers and students from its schools attending, said spokesman Stefan Friedman.
Success Charter Network officials say their schools are high performers that will add better education options to District 3. They point out that though the neighborhood is known for sought-after public schools such as P.S. 87, last year 13 of District 3's 20 elementary schools scored a D or F for student performance on school progress reports.
Opponents have questioned the wisdom putting the charter school's kindergartners in the Brandeis building on West 84th Street, alongside five high schools.
The building is home to the new Frank McCourt High School, which Brewer said cost $22 million in taxpayer money to create. McCourt parents worry sharing space with Upper West Success Academy could mean McCourt students will lose access to valuable resources such as a ceramics studio with a kiln, a blackbox theater and choral rehearsal room.
Opponents have also said Upper West Success would do little to ease District 3's overcrowding, because the charter school would give preference to "at-risk" kids from so-called "failing" schools, but overcrowded, sought-after schools like P.S. 87 and P.S. 199 don't fall into that category.
Despite the controversy, Upper West Success Academy has received about 600 applications for 188 slots in this fall's kindergarten class.
Among them is George Schneiderman, who's hoping his 4-year-old twins will win slots at Upper West Success Academy.
While Schneiderman said he didn't think sharing space with Brandeis was "ideal," he was happy to hear the PEP voted in favor of the charter school's move to District 3.
"District 3 has a number of alternative options for families who are zoned for poorly performing schools, but most of those alternatives don't have enough seats to satisfy the demand, so the addition of another desirable alternative is a big win for young children living in District 3," Schneiderman said in an e-mail.