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DOE Selects 'Suggested' Sites for Success Academy Collocations

By Mary Johnson | July 17, 2012 2:47pm
The Washington Irving complex has been identified as a
The Washington Irving complex has been identified as a "suggested site" to house a new Success Academy charter school in District 2.
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Flickr/eden pictures

MANHATTAN — The controversial push to add two new Success Academy charter schools to the network of elementary institutions in District 2 has come one step closer to completion.

The Department of Education has narrowed its list of potential locations for two new Success Academy charter schools down to two "suggested" sites: the Washington Irving complex in Gramercy and the High School of Graphic Communication Arts in Hell’s Kitchen.

Both sites were included on a list of dozens of existing city schools the DOE identified as having space to spare and that could serve as future homes for branches of the charter school chain run by former New York City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

The High School of Graphic Communication Arts received an 'F' in this year's progress report.
The High School of Graphic Communication Arts received an 'F' in this year's progress report.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the sites are “suggested” at this point. They must pass through the public review process and receive a positive vote from the Panel for Educational Policy before they are officially approved to house two of the six new Success Academy charter schools heading to Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The push to bring more Success Academy charter schools to District 2 in Manhattan has been fiercely debated, in large part because of the chain’s desire to co-locate its new 675-student elementary schools inside existing public school buildings.

At a public forum in May, parents came out in force to contest the possible addition of a Success Academy branch in schools listed on the roster of “underutilized public school buildings,” citing rampant overcrowding problems and lambasting the charter school chain as a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

The District 2 Community Education Council, which has passed a resolution opposing all charter school collocations, received word about the suggested sites this past week.

Eric Goldberg, a CEC member, said the choice of suggested sites did steer clear of some of the more hotly contested potential co-location schools, such as P.S. 158 on the Upper East Side and P.S. 11 in Chelsea. But still, he found the selections “surprising.”

“Those aren’t typical environments where I would see putting elementary school students,” Goldberg explained. “These are large high schools, so they’re going to have to do significant planning to make sure that it works.”

Goldberg added that, although high schools typically don’t have strong local communities because they draw students from across the city, he still expects parents to voice strong opposition to the plans.

“This community has not asked for these schools,” he noted. “They’re encroaching on space that is used [and] that this district needs.”

The Washington Irving complex is currently home to multiple schools, although the complex’s namesake, Washington Irving High School, has been marked for closure. After a PEP vote earlier this year, the school will slowly be phased out.

The DOE now plans to add two new schools in Washington Irving’s place, including a software engineering academy.

Gregg Lundahl, a longtime teacher at Washington Irving and a representative for the teacher’s union, could not be reached for comment on Monday. But when asked earlier this year about the inclusion of Washington Irving on the DOE’s list of underutilized schools, he noted the complex’s extensive overcrowding problem.

“They could reconfigure and make classrooms out of the library, which has been closed because none of the four current principals are willing to share the cost of a librarian,” Lundahl wrote in an email. “Scheduling gym classes in the limited gym space is already onerous.”

“It would not be a rational move on their behalf,” he added, speaking of the potential addition of another school on site. “But that has not stopped them before.”

The High School of Graphic Communication Arts in Hell’s Kitchen, which is also home to several collcated schools, was slated to close and then reopen this fall under a new name, the Creative Digital Minds High School, after poor performance reviews.

The principal of that school, Brendan Lyons, was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Shino Tanikawa, president of the District 2 CEC, likened the prospect of squeezing another school into institutions with several schools already located on site to sharing a one-bedroom apartment with five random roommates.

“I don’t think forcing a tenant into a building with already three or four tenants is the way to go," Tanikawa said. “I don’t know if there’s going to be an equitable use of the shared spaces.”

Plus, she added, there is a need for high school seats in District 2.

“I’m not sure why we couldn’t be increasing high school seats in these buildings,” Tanikawa said. “It’s not the ideal situation.”

Senator Liz Krueger has been among those who stand firmly opposed to the incoming charter schools, and a spokesman for her office said the senator plans to continue the fight at upcoming hearings.

“The push to collocate these charters in District 2 is a misplaced priority,” the spokesman said in a statement. “When the Department of Education holds its hearings on the proposed co-locations, Sen. Krueger will continue to make the case that we need to direct resources toward the students’ real needs, based on the numbers, the facts, and the overwhelming feedback she’s received from parents and the public.”