By Carla Zanoni
UPPER MANHATTAN — A Brooklyn charter school that wants to bring its Hebrew dual-language curriculum to Washington Heights won the preliminary support of Community Board 12's educational committee Thursday evening.
After a lengthy presentation from Hebrew Language Academy Charter School's organizers, the committee voted yes on a measure to recommend its support for the new charter.
According to school officials, the Sosúa HLA branch would be modeled after its current location in Midwood, Brooklyn, and would offer a "nurturing and rigorous K to 5 dual language school community committed to academic excellence and the fostering of a high degree of Hebrew language proficiency."
As with all charter schools, Sosúa would be a publicly funded venture, but the organization has received start-up backing through the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, created by former hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt. His daughter Sara Berman, a philanthropist and former journalist, founded HLA in Brooklyn.
If Sosúa receives its charter, the school would become the second school of its kind in New York. The school's Upper Manhattan location has not yet been decided, though school officials stressed they would not take space from another public school.
The school will begin enrollment with 150 students in kindergarten and first grade in September 2012, adding one grade each consecutive year until it reaches fifth grade, with a student population of about 450.
Officials said they ultimately would like to see the school expand to higher grades if successful in the district.
Each grade would have three classes holding 25 students each taught by two teachers, one focused on general education and one on Hebrew language education.
HLA officials emphasized their commitment to ethnic diversity in the school and said an admission lottery system would give preference to District 6 applicants, who live in Hamilton Heights, Sugar Hill, Fort George, Washington Heights and Inwood, but would be open to children from all districts to apply.
At least one community board member asked how the school would be prepared to educate the predominantly Hispanic population of the CB12 district, which is very different from that of its Brooklyn district, which has a 55 percent white, 36 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic demographic. The board member also asked how the school would deal with students of varied faiths.
"This is not a Jewish school, this is a Hebrew language learning school," said Maureen Campbell, HLA’s principal in Brooklyn, stressing that if approved, the school would be non-religious, like other public schools. "In Brooklyn we are more diverse than any other school in that district, we would hope for the same here."
Area resident and self-described education activist Josh Karan voiced skepticism about the school’s plan to move to Upper Manhattan and said he was concerned about funding being diverted from traditional public schools for something he does not believe is needed in the area.
"Why this community?" he asked. "We have a different population than in Brooklyn and there is not a huge demand for charter schools."
Community Board 12 currently has one charter school's in its district: Inwood Academy for Leadership, located in Inwood.
Karan asked for the committee to hold off on its recommendation until the school could make a broader presentation to the community at-large.
"We need a much larger discussion than can be had here," he said.
CB12’s full board will vote on the education committee’s measure on January 25 after the public has had a chance to comment on the measure during its public forum.