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East Harlem to Get Progressive Middle School in 2014, DOE Says

By Jeff Mays | April 8, 2013 8:48am

HARLEM — Just weeks after the Panel for Educational Policy approved the expansion of a charter school into space parents and administrators at Central Park East II elementary school had identified as a possible location for a new middle school, the Department of Education confirmed that the progressive school would grow starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

“We’re continuing to work with the CPE community to develop a plan for a progressive middle school option for the 2014 school year," confirmed DOE spokesman Devon Puglia.

The move comes after the Panel for Educational Policy voted last month to allow East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School to keep an existing school at the Jackie Robinson educational complex at 1573 Madison Ave. through 2016 and to establish a second school there.

 Central Park East II Principal Naomi Smith with Central Park East I student Molly Hohl, 10, a fifth-grader.
Central Park East II Principal Naomi Smith with Central Park East I student Molly Hohl, 10, a fifth-grader.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

CPE parents and officials were frustrated by the move because they had been trying for four years to identify space to expand into a progressive middle school that emphasizes experimental learning over testing. The district lacks progressive school options in the area.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told CPE II parent Debbie Meyer in an August 20, 2012, email that there simply was no space available for expansion.

"Currently, given the volume of space needs in upper Manhattan, the DOE is unable to consider this request for a school expansion," Walcott wrote.

The DOE said it remained interested in a progressive middle school in the area to offer parents choice. It has announced plans to open 78 new, mostly small schools during the 2013-2014 school year, bringing to 656 the number of new schools opened during the Bloomberg administration.

CPE II principal Naomi Smith has been negotiating with the DOE to work out the details of the expansion but a vote is expected in June. Both sides say it is not finalized where the new school would be located.

"You can fight City Hall," Smith said.

Jeff Ginsburg, executive director of the respected East Harlem Tutorial Program and East Harlem Scholars Academies, said the extension for its first charter school to stay at the school would allow it time to build a $40 million private space at 105th Street and Second Avenue by the 2015-2016 school year that will also house after-school programs for 600 children.

The new charter school would provide East Harlem parents and students more options because the school draws 91 percent of its students from the neighborhood compared to the 50 percent of Central Park East II's students that live in Districts 3 and 4.

CPE officials disagreed, saying that the economic and racial diversity of its school was one of its main selling points.

Central Park East II parent Raven Snook, 41, a freelance journalist, said she feels better knowing that her daughter Marlena, 7, will have the option of attending a progressive middle school in her neighborhood.

"Despite our rallying, we knew that getting the PEP vote to go our way was a long shot at best," she said.

Smith said there is still the feeling at the district school that Mayor Michael Bloomberg favors charter schools.

"The mayoral election will happen and the candidates and the public will deal with that issue," Smith said. "What this shows is that when parents and educators and community people work together there is still room in our democratic society to make advances."

Despite disappointment that the middle school won't be located in the educational complex, parents are focusing on the positives.

"We hope it's nearby, of course, but in the end the most important thing is getting the middle school," Snook. said