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Success Academy Faces New Battle in Bid to Take Over Public School Art Room

By Emily Frost | March 12, 2014 10:45am
 The school leadership says it's a growing school and can't afford to lose space. 
Frederick Douglass Academy II
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HARLEM — Even as Success Academy boss Eva Moskowitz is accusing the city of unfairly rejecting three of her planned moves into public schools, one Harlem public school is fighting back on a DOE plan to hand over their art room to an expanding branch of the controversial charter school.

Success Academy Harlem West got a nod from the Education Department to increase the number of students it serves inside Frederick Douglass Academy II on West 114th Street, by taking over part of the school's art room, as well as eliminating administrative space and a classroom, according to the school principal.

"We're on the rise. We're something the system should support," said FDA II Principal Osei Owusu-Afriyie, who said he was recently told of the plan by the Education Department.

In 2010, Owusu-Afriyie joined the grades 6-12 school with the promise of making arts a priority, hiring the school's first art teacher and adding art classes, he said, adding that "the arts are a way to excite students."

When Success Academy Harlem West, part of Eva Moskowitz's controversial charter network, moved its grades 5-8 into the building in the fall of 2012, Owusu-Afriyie said he was forced to move the art classes out of the existing art room, which had sinks and a kiln for baking clay, and into a classroom with no kiln and no sinks for washing up after hands-on art projects.

"We gave up a wonderful art room with a kiln [in 2012]" that the school hasn't been able to replace, Owusu-Afriyie said.

Owusu-Afriyie was still waiting for the DOE to fulfill its promise to install sinks in the new art room he established two floors above when they came to him with their latest request to relocate the art classes, he explained.

Owusu-Afriyie said the DOE now wants FDA II to move its art classes again into an administrative room that currently houses five staff members' desks — and is almost half the size of the current art room, 300 square feet, down from the current art room's 500 square feet.

"My community is against [the move]," he said, adding the loss of space doesn't make sense. "It's about supporting all the schools to be the best possible schools they can be," he said.

Though the DOE was expecting FDA II to have only 369 students enrolled, the school had 428 this year, Owusu-Afriyie said. He expects the growth to continue as the school's reputation continues to improve. This school year, for example, there are two classes of seniors graduating from FDA II while four freshman classes entered, he said.

Under the original space-sharing agreement with Success Academy Harlem West — known as a "building utilization agreement," which was published and authorized by the DOE in December 2010 — FDA II was allocated 16 classrooms, the principal said.

In comparison, Success Academy, which Owusu-Afriyie said currently has 272 students, was given nine classrooms, with that number supposed to rise to 13 for the 2013-14 school year and 15 the year after, the agreement said. 

Neither the DOE nor the Success Academy responded to requests for comment.

DOE District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul told Community Education Council members at a recent meeting that FDA II occupies 29 rooms at the building, 21 of which serve as classrooms and eight of which serve as administrative rooms.

She said the school doesn't have the right to ask for more space.

"They are exceeding their footprint," she said. "There really is no argument that they need more space, because they’re getting more than their original footprint."

Furthermore, if Owusu-Afriyie doesn't accept the DOE's co-location plan, his over-utilization of the school could come into question, Altschul said.

Altschul said the DOE has offered to install sinks in the administrative offices to make the move more palatable to FDA II. She did not know why there was a delay in adding sinks to the current art room.

Parents said the DOE's attitude toward the school's success is appalling.

"It is definitely true and sad that as we continue to do better, especially in the area of enrollment, that we do not get the support needed to retain adequate space for our scholars here at Frederick Douglass Academy II," said parent coordinator Tracey Stahling. 

CEC members were outraged, saying the Education Department is holding the school hostage over the colocation plan.

"It sounds to me like Success Academy is calling the shots," added CEC member Theresa Hammonds. 

"I don’t want the principal to be in this position where he puts his money on the table and ends up with less space," said CEC President Joe Fiordaliso, who called the plan a "Faustian deal."

CEC members agreed that they would consult with Owusu-Afriyie before taking an official position and writing a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

"Don’t cut a deal. Never leave money on the table if you don’t have to," said Fiordaliso.

Fiordaliso was optimistic that an arrangement could be reached in which FDA II could not only get a new art room with sinks, but keep all its current classrooms. 

The CEC said the DOE is being hypocritical about the co-location given its recent decision to deny three Success Academy schools space inside existing public schools, by citing the fact that the expansion would put elementary school students next to high schoolers on the same floor. 

"If we come down hard on this and maybe are quite influential, I see it as someone has to move," Fitzimmons said. "You’re not going to move the high school."