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Washington Irving Teachers, Parents Protest Success Academy Charter School

By Mary Johnson | October 26, 2012 1:58pm

UNION SQUARE — Parents, teachers and elected officials gathered on the steps of the Washington Irving high school campus Thursday night to protest a push by the Success Academy charter school network to open a new location inside the campus on Irving Place.

The move is pending a vote of approval from the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, and the protesters said they are hoping to rally parents and students ahead of that vote to let the Department of Education know that Success Academy and its founder, Eva Moskowitz, are not welcome.

At the rally, protesters carried signs reading “Deliver us from Eva” and “Success Academy is Separate and Unequal,” and chanted phrases like “just not right.”

“We want everybody to know that we are not going to stand for it,” said Gregg Lundahl, a longtime teacher at Washington Irving High School, which the PEP voted to close last year.

“[Eva Moskowitz] will never be able to occupy this school without problems,” Lundahl added. “So Eva, you might as well give up now because we’re not having you here.”

Success Academy has been working to open an elementary school in Manhattan’s District 2, which stretches from the Upper East Side to TriBeCa, for some time now.

Public meetings have been held to discuss possible locations for a new branch of the charter school, and the Department of Education has listed the Washington Irving campus as a school building with space to spare.

At the rally, teachers and elected officials disputed that claim, saying the facility is already stretched thin.

“We cannot put another school into this building,” City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said at the rally.

“When you start co-locating two or three schools in a building, it’s difficult. That’s not talking about five or six, which is what’s happening here,” Mendez added. “Now you’ve got six principals trying to figure out who uses the science lab, who uses the gym.”

Teachers argued that it was unfair for charter schools to use public school spaces, something they believe sucks resources from public institutions that are underfunded and overcrowded.

“[Charter schools] don’t serve everyone,” said Phyllis Zayerz, a retired teacher who taught elementary school on the Lower East Side for 33 years. “A high school like this has got to take a stand.”

Elzora Cleveland, a past president of the District 2 Community Education Council and a parent volunteer with the United Federation of Teachers, said she is concerned about Success Academy’s enrollment and the proportion of special needs students and English language learners who attend.

“We’re not against a charter being here,” Cleveland said. “”We’re against a charter being inside our public schools.”

In a statement, Moskowitz said Success Academy has heard from hundreds of parents across District 2 who would welcome another “high-quality public school option” for their children.

“There are a lot of innovative programs on the Washington Irving campus, and we hope we have the opportunity to work with these other educators to provide all the students in the building a world class education," Moskowitz added.

The charter chain dispels the notion that they do not enroll English language learners and special needs children, claiming enrollment of these students within Success Academy schools is “on par” with that of the local school districts.

Success also disputes the claim that the Washington Irving campus is too full to take on another school. A representative said the building currently has 941 empty seats and that no existing school within the building will lose space except for Washington Irving, which has begun the process of closing down.

But teachers at Washington Irving are hoping that there is still time to stop Success Academy in its tracks. They distributed flyers at the rally, encouraging parents and students to attend a public hearing at Washington Irving on Nov. 1 at 5:40 p.m.

“We are really standing up for our kids,” said Thomas Hasler, an Earth science teacher at the International High School at Union Square, located inside the Washington Irving campus.

“We do it because we see [charter schools] take away space from our kids, they take away resources from our kids.”