By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A battle over new classroom space at 26 Broadway is pitting a high-performing lower Manhattan high school against a school from the Upper East Side.
The city plans to move Richard R. Green High School of Teaching from East 88th Street down to the brand-new school space in 26 Broadway next fall. But downtown’s exclusive Millennium High School, which accepts just 3 percent of its applicants, is also eyeing the space in hopes of expanding.
The downtown community and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have strongly backed Millennium over Richard R. Green — a position that provoked strong feelings at a public hearing Wednesday night.
Parents at Millennium and the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School, which is also located in 26 Broadway, painted Richard R. Green as a struggling, potentially dangerous school, with 131 suspensions and a 68 percent graduation rate last year, compared to Millennium’s eight suspensions and 98 percent graduation rate.
Students, staff and parents at Richard R. Green bristled at the depiction.
"We’re not predators," Howard Shapiro, attendance coordinator at the school, told the crowd of about 60 people gathered at 26 Broadway Wednesday. "They’re just normal kids coming to school who want an education."
Richard R. Green Principal David Raubvogel said his school offers just as many Advanced Placement classes as Millennium, even though Richard R. Green does not get to choose its students and has four times as many special needs kids. Despite the challenges, Richard R. Green has sent students to Ivy League colleges, and one student was recently awarded the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, Raubvogel said.
"The motivation of these students has absolutely no correlation with their socio-economic status," said Tracee Cotto, 19, a Bronx resident and graduate of Richard R. Green who is now a sophomore at Ithaca College.
Jolan Nagi, a Richard R. Green parent, said the 600-student school has been through a lot in the past few years, including the sudden death of a teacher, but the community has been getting excited about the prospect of moving to lower Manhattan.
"Now all of a sudden, our kids aren’t good enough," said Nagi, who lives in Brooklyn. "Everything you want for your kids, we want as well."
Some of the lower Manhattan advocates said Wednesday night that they had nothing against Richard R. Green and would be happy to help them find another suitable space.
But since downtown residents fought for the city to lease the 26 Broadway space, downtown kids should be the ones who benefit from it, they say.
The city, though, plans to expand Millennium in Brooklyn rather than lower Manhattan, because Brooklyn has a greater need for selective high school seats.
Currently, Richard R. Green, which focuses on training future teachers, is crammed into an overcrowded Upper East Side building designed for elementary students, with no real gym or library.
"We need a bigger space," said Dakwan Benson, 16, a Richard R. Green student who lives in Harlem. "Every time we open up our lockers, people bump into each other."
The city plans to move P.S. 151, an Upper East Side elementary school, into Richard R. Green’s current space, which is why Richard R. Green needs to move.
Raubvogel, the school's principal, said moving down to the Financial District would give the students, especially the boys, more positive role models along with much-needed facilities.
"They’re going to benefit from seeing successful businessmen around them all day," Raubvogel said after the hearing. "It’s going to change the way they act, the way they dress. It will be a phenomenal opportunity for them."
The city will hold a second hearing on the Richard R. Green move Jan. 6 at 6 p.m. at Richard R. Green, 421 E. 88th St. The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposal Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Technical High School, 29 Fort Green Pl., Brooklyn.