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Bronx Students Adjust as New Charter School is Squeezed into Their Building

By Patrick Wall | September 11, 2012 4:44pm

LONGWOOD — After rallies and even a student walkout this spring could not block the Education Department’s plan to squeeze a new school into their building, some at Schomburg Satellite Academy shifted their sights to a tougher task — making the co-location plan work.

Just days after it began sharing a building with the new high school on Monday, ROADS Charter School II, Schomburg held an assembly to applaud its own efforts to adapt to the changes, which included switching floors and overhauling its class schedule.

“We took a negative, or what’s considered to be a negative, and we turned it into a positive,” principal Marsha Vernon told students gathered in the shared auditorium.

But after the assembly, in private talks and classroom discussions, staff and students also noted the drawbacks of the new co-location — less class and lab space, nowhere to store personal belongings and cancelled electives.

“I still feel like we settled for less,” said Crystal Samuels, 19, a Schomburg student who opposed the addition of ROADS II to the building at 1010 Reverend James Polite Ave., which already housed Schomburg and Bronx Regional High School, as well as a full-time GED program.

In January, the DOE informed the principals their building contained unused space that would be used to house ROADS II, which would open in August. All three schools serve older students who are behind in credits and transferred from other high schools.

Within weeks, some staff and students, mostly from Schomburg, began to brainstorm ways to fend off the plan. They met with parents and elected officials, staged the student walkout and even pursued a lawsuit against the DOE.

But in March, a city education oversight panel approved the plan.

Vernon then decided to make the best of a difficult situation. She met with the DOE and the other principals, drafted color-coded floor layout plans and helped revamp the class schedule with staff and representatives of the teachers union, which had to approve the adjustments.

The schools, which had operated in the building for decades, agreed to swap floors to make space for the charter, rather than spread their classrooms across different parts of the building.

For Schomburg, moving from the fifth to the second floor meant downsizing from 20 to 11 full-size instructional rooms and sharing a science lab with Bronx Regional.

“It’s really, really a challenge,” said Schomburg science teacher Carol Kennedy. “It makes planning for labs and a lab-based curriculum really difficult.”

Schomburg teachers no longer get their own classrooms, they must share. And students cannot leave their belongings in one room all day — a problem, since the building lacks lockers.

The altered schedule and reduced class space also forced the school to drop its electives, which included art, acting, filmmaking and gardening.

The schools will, however, see some improvements.

The building is set to gain two new school safety officers and 40 additional cameras, but will continue to go without metal detectors, which most students and staff have sought to avoid, Vernon said. And City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo has directed $290,000 to Schomburg for technology upgrades.

In the first few days of the year, students in the old and new schools have got along fine, staff said, though a few Schomburg students said they were still adjusting to the sight of “strangers” in the building.

Seth Litt, the principal of ROADS II, said so far the co-location has been “smooth sailing,” and that it has been “a team effort for everyone in the building.”

Vernon and others said that while the changes have been disruptive, they inspired the different schools to work together and find solutions.

“As far as I’m concerned,” Vernon said, “whether it’s Judgment Day or co-location, I’m making it be the best thing that happened to us.”