UPPER WEST SIDE — After numerous delays, the Department of Education has officially committed to creating a new school inside an Upper West Side high school building that will be vacated next year — leaving local education leaders in a race against time to iron out the details.
When news first spread in August 2011 that Beacon High School would be moving to Hell's Kitchen in 2015, parents and education leaders jumped at the chance to establish a new school at the West 61st Street space.
But it has taken until now, with a final push coming from local elected officials late last week, for the DOE to confirm that it agrees with the community's wishes and to commit to creating a new 6-12 school at the Beacon site.
"There was a delay in the process... Really we are getting a very late start. If we don’t get this [process] running as soon as possible [the school's] not going to be a success," admitted District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul.
"We are moving forward. We want to move as quickly as possible."
The DOE is now in a race against time to get the details worked out so that they can be printed in a middle school booklet advertising local schools that is sent out to elementary school parents in the fall.
"We have really stressed that it must be in the [middle school] book, which is usually printed in the summer," Altschul told Community Education Council 3 members, who've said that without proper promotion, the new school could wind up a failure.
The next step in quickly generating the specifics of the school's curriculum, tone, leadership, and policies is to form a DOE-led working group, Altschul explained.
Representatives from the DOE's Office of New Schools, Enrollment Office, and Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners, as well as two CEC 3 members, will be part of the group, she noted.
Altschul said she would confirm whether Community Board 7 members, who convened a Beacon working group in 2013, would also be included.
"We don’t want it to get too large that we can't get anything accomplished," she said of the group. "I’m encouraging community engagement, but we want it to stay focused."
CEC President Joe Fiordaliso said he wanted the school to be appealing and inviting to both Uptown and Downtown parents, with CEC representatives from both areas of the district. CEC member Barbara Denham, who lives in the southern half, and Olayia Deen, who lives in the norther half, volunteered to be the CEC reps in the group.
The CEC also fought for the meetings to be open to the public, since the community has been such a big part of the process so far.
In December, the CEC sent a memo to the DOE with a long wishlist for the school, with many of the particulars stemming directly from feedback gathered multiple public hearings.
"I think these meetings are public meetings," Deen said. "Anybody should be able to attend these meetings."
Altschul said she'd confer with the DOE to discuss whether the working group meetings could be open to the public but closed to comment.
Parents and leaders have argued that the school as is currently is not fit for middle school students and needs improvements like the creation of outdoor space, an expanded gym and a larger cafeteria.
But Altschul hedged on whether those improvements would come to fruition.
"I don’t know how much they’ll be putting in or what capital money they’ll be putting in," she said. "It’s difficult but it is something they’re looking it."