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Charter School Co-Location Plan Irks Some Parents at Struggling P.S. 221

By Sonja Sharp | March 14, 2013 9:41am
 Mom Roxie Maddox said she and other parents at P.S. 221 never got a chance to fight the Citizens of the World charter school that will open there in the fall. 
Mom Roxie Maddox said she and other parents at P.S. 221 never got a chance to fight the Citizens of the World charter school that will open there in the fall. 
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

CROWN HEIGHTS — Williamsburg parents aren't the only ones battling Citizens of the World charter network's move into Brooklyn.

P.S. 221 PTA President Averil Mason said families in her group oppose the Los Angeles-based group just as strongly as their northern neighbors, who filed suit against the state for approving the school's charter when they learned it planned to put down roots in District 14.

But for many at the once-successful Crown Heights school, where a number of staffing and program cuts have been implemented over the past year, there just aren't enough hours in the day left to fight it.

"Our parents are mostly working-class parents that don’t have the time to come and voice their opinion," Mason said. "A lot of cuts they have made, like to the after-school program — a lot of our parents are suffering.

"[Last year] we had two after-school programs in the school. Now we have none." 

The SUNY Charter Authority granted Citizens of the World charters for two new schools in Brooklyn — one to share space with two existing schools in District 14 and one to co-locate with P.S. 221 in District 17.

But while parents in Williamsburg have vocally expressed their opposition, critics in Crown Heights parents have struggled to organize. 

"It's very frustrating," said mom Roxie Maddox, whose three children attend the school. "We tried to gather everyone together, but it was already too late. We didn’t have enough time to build up a force so we could fight." 

Both District 14 and District 17 are already popular landing-spots for out-of-town charters, with several moving into existing schools every year. Like other schools that have been asked to share space, P.S. 221 has fallen on hard times, losing 10 teachers and both its after-school programs to budget cuts in a matter of months last year.

"That has hit us," Mason said. "We went from a three-year A school to a D school, which I don’t think was fair."

Parents said they first heard about the Citizens plan just two weeks before the public hearing on Jan. 10 that sealed their school's fate. 

"There’s been no community outreach or interaction," said one mother of three who declined to give her name for fear of losing her job. "We heard them speak for about two minutes — that’s been the breadth of our interaction with the folks at Citizens."

Moms like Mason and Maddox have been busy staffing an ad-hoc after-school program with parent volunteers amid the cuts.

"We volunteer our time because we're concerned parents," Maddox said. "This is just us staying here waiting for parents to come pick these kids up."

By the time they learned about the plans for the charter, most were already stretched thin.

"They say we're underutilized, but we're not," Maddox said. "Now you’re going to cram our students all over the place. The kids are going to be all disrupted and unfocused."

Citizens of the World did not immediately comment.