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Charter Schools Crowd Into Crown Heights

By Sonja Sharp | May 16, 2012 9:43am
District 17's Community Education Council discusses charters hoping to join the district, already one of the most charter-heavy in the borough.
District 17's Community Education Council discusses charters hoping to join the district, already one of the most charter-heavy in the borough.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

CROWN HEIGHTS — Hipsters aren’t the only ones competing over Crown Heights real estate this spring — schools have joined the bidding war, as the Department of Education mulls applications from four new charters vying for space in Brooklyn’s District 17.

KIPP AMP was in Crown Heights before it was cool. When it opened on Park Place in 2005, there were few charters in the district, which encompasses Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and part of Flatbush in central Brooklyn. Now the national network is competing with new schools for real estate in a district that already hosts half a dozen charters and could see that number nearly double by 2013, the Department of Education announced at a Community Education Council meeting Tuesday.

The prospect of such expansion that raised eyebrows among some parents and educators.

“I’m kind of upset that here we think we have three charter schools and now we see we have a fourth one,” said council member Ann Marie Williams. “I’m not opposing anything, but the way that this just came about, I think that’s totally disrespectful.”

KIPP AMP, Success Academy Brooklyn, Explore Envision and Achievement First-AF Aspire are all seeking new space or expansions in District 17 for the 2013-14 school year, according to the DOE. Only Brooklyn’s District 14 in Williamsburg and Greenpoint currently has as many applicants, and only that district has as many existing charters.

“We’re not setting in stone that these schools will open and that they will open in District 17,” said Kim Wong, an associate planner with the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management. “These schools have applied, they have stated an interest in District 17.”

But because charters must find space within existing public school buildings, and because those arrangments have not always gone smoothly, some on the council and in the community expressed alarm over the number of new applicants. 

“You pit parents against parents in the same community,” council president Claudette Agard told DOE representatives. “Students, staff and parents really feel disenfranchised.”

For example, KIPP AMP, which applied to expand its current fifth through eighth grade school down to kindergarten, already co-locates with two traditional public schools on Park Place.

“I was one of the parents out their recruiting parents to KIPP when they first came here,” Agard said. “I do not see them expanding in that building.”

Others worry more charters will mean more problems for traditional public schools in a district already burdened by uneven performance, where eight schools scored D’s or F’s on the 2010-2011 report cards.

“We believe that we get the bottom cases,” said Principal Bently Warrington, whose Walt Whitman school colocates with Fahari Academy in Flatbush. “We don’t talk to kids that way because they’re all angels, but we accept everyone, and we don’t believe that that’s fair to us.”

Wong explained that though it was too early to know whether the charters on the list would actually open in the district, the DOE wanted to give parents and local educators as much advanced notice as possible.

“We aren’t perfect, and neither is this process,” Wong said. “I think that’s part of why we’re out here tonight rather than waiting until the fall when we would have in the past done these presentations.”