UPPER WEST SIDE — A new charter school that would serve local middle school students could be coming to the Upper West Side next year.
A group of neighborhood parents have gotten the green light from the state's education department to submit a full application for the school, dubbed E³, for "explore, engage, empower. The middle school would serve students from 5th to 8th grades.
The organizers of E³ — Claire Lowenstein, the assistant principal at the Manhattan School for Children, who would become the school's principal, and Tatiana Hoover, MSC's business manager who would be the executive director at the new school — hope they'll be granted a charter by December.
Their goal is to open in the fall of 2014.
Lowenstein and Hoover both live in the neighborhood and have children who went through district schools, they said. They told Community Education Council members Wednesday night that they're interested in having the school meet local needs and are committed to only accepting students from within the district.
They promise not to co-locate in a public school, an attempt to side-step controversy and increase the likelihood of building partnerships with local schools, they said.
"We really, as a charter, want to bridge this 'district school versus charter school' [mentality]," said Lowenstein.
But CEC member Joe Fiordaliso pressed the women on their commitment.
"In the event that you don’t find space, if forced, if no other facility that you saw as viable comes online, would you be open to collocating in a public school space?" he asked.
Hoover confirmed that even in those circumstances they would still avoid a DOE building.
"It’s very hard to coexist in such tight spaces," she responded.
The women are evaluating buildings on 64th and 61st streets.
"We are aiming at the lower end of the district because there aren’t so many middle schools down there," Hoover said.
The school plans to be small and innovative, Lowenstein said, capped at about 240 students for the whole school, and classes would mingle grades, a strategy they're borrowing from the Center School.
Students would be in school 211 days a year, with longer school days and an emphasis on 21st century problem solving and project-based learning, the women explained.
E³ is after a unique space: small classroom pods surrounding a large open floor and without a traditional cafeteria, but with an open kitchen for children to learn about wellness and cooking from an on-site chef.
"If you think about businesses now, like Google, there are open spaces where you can collaborate," Hoover said. "The point is to make the kids excited about working."
The founders said students will be selected by a lottery system, but that their goal is to achieve the same racial diversity as the district. Resources will also be devoted to students with special needs and motor impairments.
"We are trying to build diversity. In a new school, we would like diversity," urged CEC member Camille Goodrich.
Part of the inspiration for forming a charter school instead of a district school came from Hoover's frustrations with getting tools special education students in her school needed to learn from the DOE.
"It takes me at least three months to get something for a child that needs it immediately. I needed a $200 software piece. It took forever," she said.
The school's funding will come from the DOE's allotment for each student and private fundraising.
The middle school focus came from the women's sense as educators and parents that those years were critical for a student's development and that there weren't enough innovative, progressive places taking up the charge.
"The more middle schools the better for the district," Hoover said. "I hear that there are families out there who are looking for other [middle school] seats. The more seats the better."
The duo is just starting to talk about their idea publicly, they said.
"This is our beginning of outreach. We will talk until we’re blue in the face," Hoover said.