By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Girls Prep Charter School moved a step closer to securing new space for its middle school on East 12th Street Monday after earning broad approval for the plan at a public hearing on the proposed relocation.
After a battle over classroom space forced the all-girls school to move its middle-school classes to Astor Place last year, the charter is hoping to expand to serve fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders at the East Side Community School for the 2011-'12 school year.
If the move is approved, Girls Prep plans to add an eight-grade class the following year, housing about 300 students total at the school building between First Avenue and Avenue A.
District 1's Community Education Council supports the relocation, but still has questions over the amount of special-education students the school would serve and how many students from the Lower East Side would be enrolled at the new location.
The CEC also wants to ensure a smooth transition for Girls Prep, noting that charter schools are not bound by the same laws and regulations as public schools, and have less accountability when sharing space.
Tom Mullen, assistant principal at East Side Community School, used his comments to welcome Girls Prep to the building but warned that the departing charter school currently sharing space there, Ross Global Academy, represented the worst of housemates.
"Ross Global came into this building with an attitude of arrogance. … They came into the building and acted like they owned the building," he said at the hearing held by the Department of Education.
He noted that the charter school's staff refused to communicate directly with East Side Community School officials and moved forward with classroom renovations that cost the public school thousands of dollars.
"That's not the way we can do things around here," he said.
Ross Global Academy is expected to leave at the end of the school year after the Department of Education decided not to renew its charter based on poor performance.
A parade of Girls Prep parents and students also spoke up during the public session, praising the school for working with students individually and creating a close-knit community.
"Girls Prep is not just a school, but it's a whole support system," said Jammie Mitchell, who has two daughters at the school and decided to continue sending them to Girls Prep after recently moving from the Lower East Side to the Bronx. "Girls Prep is more than just a school — it's a family."
However, the CEC also noted that Girls Prep received a failing "C" grade on its latest DOE progress report, ranking it in the bottom 15 percent of city schools.
The Council also wants more parent involvement at Girls Prep, calling charter schools "education corporations" that answer to their own private boards "stacked with hedge-fund billionaires and private interests."
Girls Prep advocates assured the CEC of the school's strong history of parent involvement, noting that teachers and parents often have conversations outside the classroom.
"We do feel and know that are families are public school families," said Christina Garcia-Coleman, managing director of finance and operations for the school.
Ultimately, the meeting was viewed as a step in the right direction for the expected relocation.
"As a very longtime educator, I'm touched," said Elaine Gorman, the DOE's superintendent of Manhattan high schools, of the parents and students who shared their positive experiences at Girls Prep.
"It's very heartwarming to me."
A final public hearing on the proposed move will take place on March 7 at Girls Prep, 442 E. Houston St., before the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the plan March 23.