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Demand for Harlem School Spots Should Prevent Charter Growth, Leaders Say

By Emily Frost | April 22, 2014 10:33am
 The school is not offering to compromise with the DOE on Harlem Success Academy taking some of its space. 
Frederick Douglass Academy II Fights Back Against Charter Expansion
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HARLEM — Leaders from a local public school that students are lining up in the hundreds to attend are fighting back against a charter school's controversial plan to take over classrooms in their shared building.

Education leaders recently learned that Frederick Douglass Academy II received 950 applications for just 100 ninth-grade seats this coming school year.

The huge uptick comes amid a push by Eva Moskowitz's Harlem Success Academy to move into three of FDA II's rooms, including the 6-12 school's only art room.

In reponse, FDA II's school leadership team — made up of the principal, teachers and other staff — recently rejected a plan by the charter school to take over the art room, as well as an additional classroom and administrative space. 

However, a 2010 DOE space-sharing document gives Success Academy the right to expand next year.

News of the demand for seats at FDA II stunned Community Education Council 3, which noted that the school previously struggled to attract interest. For the 2013-2014 school year, the school received just 391 ninth-grade applications, said Principal Osei Owusu-Afriyie. A year earlier, the number of ninth-grade applications was 350, he added. 

The increase in applications marks "a pretty clear call for making sure they have additional space, not doing a bait-and-switch with existing space," said CEC 3 president Joe Fiordaliso.

The department tried to negotiate with FDA II earlier this spring — offering to move its existing art room into FDA II's administrative rooms — but the school leadership team held fast in its opposition to any encroachment by Harlem Success Academy, CEC members said.

"The parents don’t feel secure in the DOE’s word," said CEC member Olayia Deen. 

Worried the current standoff will lead to Success Academy getting its way, the CEC is rallying behind the school and looking for ways to push the issue in FDA II's favor. 

"The situation is rotten... there’s no mechanism once these space plans are set up — they don’t check them," complained CEC member Noah Gotbaum. "They don’t look at whether the space allocation makes any sense at all."

Gotbaum tried to push DOE Superintendent Ilene Altschul to stand behind FDA II at a recent metting, but she said the school's current enrollment numbers weren't high enough to justify keeping the rooms, if the DOE was going by the original space-sharing document. 

"I am concerned," Altschul admitted, noting she's personally not in favor of FDA II losing rooms. "I don’t want him to lose that space."

CEC members decided they'd write a letter urging Chancellor Carmen Fariña to ask her to stop the takeover.

"These DOE officials have to stand up for our kids," Gotbaum said.

Neither Success Academy nor the DOE returned requests for comment.