The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Success Academy Quietly Moves to Open New LES or Uptown School

By  Lisha Arino and Lindsay Armstrong | October 14, 2014 9:38am 

 Third-grade students Tyler Smalls, left, and Sekou Cisse raise their hands in reading comprehension class at Harlem Success Academy in March 2009.
Third-grade students Tyler Smalls, left, and Sekou Cisse raise their hands in reading comprehension class at Harlem Success Academy in March 2009.
View Full Caption
Getty Images/Chris Hondros

MANHATTAN — Parents and elected officials worry that Success Academy will open a school in either the Lower East Side or Upper Manhattan, even though they were never consulted.

The state recently approved a new school in District 2 — which covers Lower Manhattan, much of the West Side and the Upper East Side — even though Success Academy had expressed interest in placing a school in either District 1, which covers the Lower East Side, or northern Manhattan’s District 6.

The network originally planned to open the new school in Community Education Council District 2, but a day before the Oct. 8 hearing, Success Academy wrote a letter informing the SUNY Charter Schools Institute that it was interested in siting a school in either Districts 1 or 6, according to a video recording of the meeting.

Parents and officials said the move came as a surprise. In a letter sent to SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall on Tuesday, elected officials and local education leaders expressed concern that the state had allowed Success Academy to alter its application without telling affected communities.

“We were very disturbed to learn that the SUNY Board of Trustees voted...to approve a change in application for Success Academy Charter School from District 2 to District 1 and District 6 without advance notification to the public,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by City Council members Margaret Chin, Rosie Mendez, Ydanis Rodriguez and Daniel Dromm, as well as the Community Education Council District 1 President Lisa Donlan, District 2 President Shino Tanikawa and District 6 President Miriam Aristy-Farer.

However, SUNY did not allow Success Academy to change its application, said a spokesman. Instead, it approved its District 2 charter “after undergoing the legally required process, including a public hearing,” he said.

“The Institute was notified that Success may pursue alternative arrangements in Districts 1 or 6, an adjustment which, for a variety of reasons, is not uncommon for a charter school,” he said in a statement.

“Should they follow that course, under the law and well established practice the Institute can amend the charter accordingly, and there will be a process for additional public input.”

Despite the statement, a list of approved charter school prosposals on the SUNY Charter Schools Institute website indicates that the state approved a Success Academy school to sited in either District 1 or 6.

The list, which was updated on Oct. 14, does not include a school sited for District 2.

The charter school had originally wanted to open a school in District 2, SUNY Charter Schools Institute Executive Director Susie Miller Barker at the meeting.

After “additional analysis,” however, Success Academy decided it wanted to open a school in District 1 or 6, she said in the video.

Ann Powell, the senior managing director of public affairs at Success Academy, said the network decided to change its application after reevaluating "a number of factors" including demand, the number of schools it already has in the area and available facilities.

"It just made sense for us to look at [Districts] 1 and 6," she said.

The SUNY spokesman said Success Academy would be able to amend its charter instead of resubmitting an application because the new school would still be located in Manhattan.

The elected officials argued that each neighborhood is different and said Success Academy should reach out to the districts before requesting the change.

“School districts within a borough are inherently different populations — different density, diversity, language, culture, and socio-economic needs — and require distinct notification and outreach efforts,” it said.

Powell said Success Academy had reached out to the District 2 community by writing letters to elected officials, holding information sessions and taking out ads announcing their intent to start a school in the area.

"We made an [outreach] effort in the original charter, but [Districts 1 and 6] were not part of the original application," she said. Success Academy has not reached out to either district because it has not decided where it will site the school, she said.

“We just got the announcement last week. Within the next few days, we’ll make the decision and we’ll immediately start the outreach," Powell said.

Aristy-Farer and Donlan said they both found out about the decision after a parent who watched the hearing notified them.

“We only learned about this change ourselves because a parent advocate was watching the hearing online. When she saw the change, she notified us immediately,” they said in the letter.

Donlan said the districts, which are working together, have been left in the dark and are unsure what will happen next.

“No one knows what this means, when District 1 is supposed to be notified, have a hearing, [or] have an opportunity for input,” she said.

Aristy-Farer and Donlan also said they were concerned about overcrowding and the possibility of another school co-location.

In District 1, Donlan said, about 85 percent of schools share a building with one or more other institutions. Many schools don't get enough access to common areas like gyms, cafeterias and auditoriums. 

“We are co-located to the gills. We believe in sharing facilities and we believe in utilizing space, but there is a price that comes with many institutions sharing a building — that is, overcrowding,” she said.

Success Academy will have the option of requesting co-located space in either district, according to DOE policy. In order to determine the appropriateness of a co-location, the DOE would follow a process that includes both feedback from the charter and from the affected communities. 

"It's our goal to invest in all our public schools to make sure parents have great options for their children, regardless of what neighborhood they live in," said Devora Kaye, a DOE spokesperson.