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Critics Blast DOE for Plan to Move UWS High School to Washington Heights

By Emily Frost | December 5, 2012 1:42pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — Dozens of students and teachers rallied Tuesday night to defend an Upper West Side high school that's slated to be relocated to Washington Heights next school year, accusing the Education Department of shunting it aside to make room for an elementary charter school that shares the building.

The Department of Education is set to vote Dec. 20 on a plan to move Innovation Diploma High School — which is currently co-located with four other schools, including Eva Moskowitz's expanding Upper West Success Academy — out of the Brandeis High complex on West 84th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues.

The 189-student high school would move into Community Health Academy of the Heights,  at 601 West 183th St., which is on deck to move into a new school building next year.

The relocation would cost an estimated $44,000, and construction of a science lab and fitness rooms would cost between $1.5 million and $3 million, according to the DOE.

But critics say the DOE move favors the needs of  Upper West Success Academy, a K-2 charter school that has plans to grow to K-5 in 2015, over the public high school students who were there first. The school run by Moskowitz, a former member of the City Council, and the three other high schools — Urban Assembly School for Green Careers, The Global Learning Collaborative, and Frank McCourt High School — would remain at the 84th Street campus.

Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said the goal is to give Innovation Diploma High School students a building of their own, nearer to where many of them live.

"What we want to do is provide the [high] school with an opportunity to be in an area that's their own building. And we will be making renovations — they'll have fitness rooms and a lab," Feinberg said.

Feinberg also stressed that the move is also intended to bring the students closer to their main partner Alianza Dominicana, a non-profit in Washington Heights that focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty for families. Alianza Dominicana has had a bumpy several years, after allegations that its leadership was extorting money for private use.

Many present at Tuesday night's rally and the ensuing hearing, including Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, expressed frustration at the DOE proposal, saying it's the latest example of the DOE giving preference to charter schools at the expense of public schools.

"When I spoke out in opposition to the co-location of a charter school in the building some two years ago, I was concerned that its needs would overwhelm the needs of the high schools already present in the building.  Now, it appears that these fears are being realized at the expense of hard-working and highly motivated Innovation students," Rosenthal said. 

Community Board 7 Board Chair Mark Diller told students the entire Upper West Side community supported them. CB7 member Helen Rosenthal spoke directly to the students telling them, "You're on the side of right on this one."

At the hearing, the DOE, represented by Superintendent Anthony Lodico, pointed out that only 7 percent of the school's students reside in District 3, which spans from 59th Street to 122nd Street, while 21 percent live in District 6 in Washington Heights.

The new school location is within the NYPD's 34 Precinct Impact Zone, a designation assigned to neighborhoods with higher crime statistics that have been marked for additional policing.

Many of those present expressed concern about the safety of the new location.

"I don't want to move to such a dangerous neighborhood," one 17-year-old student said.

Community Education Council member Noah Gotbaum expressed anger that the students would be moved out of their building into one further from their homes.

"This is a state-of-the-art high school," he said. "Why are you throwing these kids to the curb?"

Maria Henriquez, 18, brought her 1-year-old daughter Khloe with her. She said she spoke for herself and other teenage mothers who rely on the school's Life program, which allows students to attend school while their children are in daycare on the premises. Henriquez and others fear a relocation would put the program in jeopardy. 

"You're hurting me? No, you're hurting my child," she said. 

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer said she opposed breaking up the high school community at Brandeis. 

"The four schools work closely to share facilities, including art rooms, and theaters and science labs, and also athletic teams," she said. Participation in sports is a leading determinant in keeping kids in school, she said, and Innovation creates a large enough pool of players to make the shared teams competitive.

Brewer also objected to the waste of public money in relocating the students.

"Some [facilities] are newly upgraded due to taxpayer funding that was allocated to the high school because of the co-location of the charter school. Facilities would be changed again if a different school moved in, all at public expense," Brewer said.