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Success Academy Would Limit Special Needs at Bed-Stuy School, Critics Say

By Camille Bautista | December 4, 2015 4:31pm | Updated on December 7, 2015 8:56am
 Parents and teachers at P.S. 297 in Bed-Stuy are opposing the proposed opening and co-location of a Success Academy charter school in the building.
Parents and teachers at P.S. 297 in Bed-Stuy are opposing the proposed opening and co-location of a Success Academy charter school in the building.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Plans to move a Success Academy charter school into Bed-Stuy would rob an existing elementary school of space used by special needs students, opponents said.

Parents and educators at P.S. 297 met to discuss the proposal Thursday, with many vowing to fight it.

Dozens of students, parents and teachers attended, with many holding handmade posters that read “Save Our School.”

Success Academy, founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, is looking to open a new location that would be shared with P.S. 297’s Park Avenue building at the start of the 2016 school year.

But some educators fear the proposed co-location would take over much needed space that the elementary school currently uses for its special needs students. And they said another Success Academy would not benefit the community.

The charter school already operates two sites within a three-block radius of P.S. 297.

“As CEC members, we question the aggressive expansion of Success Academy,” said Mirian Lopez, vice president of the Community Education Council for District 14.

“As a member of the school community, we ask, why does Success Academy need any more schools?”  

Success Academy has more than 30 locations throughout the city, with plans for more over the next few years, according to reports.

Those opposed to the proposal say their main concern is the possible loss of a second-floor wing dedicated to services like occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy.  

“The students with special needs would be the ones who lose the most,” said CEC 14 member Roberto Portillo, adding that it would be “irreparable to the community.”

P.S. 297 serves kids in pre-k through fifth grade. In the 2014-2015 school year, 26 percent of students were listed as special needs.

If approved, Success Academy Bed-Stuy 3 would have up to 160 students in kindergarten and first grade starting in 2016, and add one grade level each year, according to the city’s Department of Education.

As the proposal is still up for vote and concrete plans are not set for the layout of the co-location, Success Academy could not provide comment on the specifics for which spaces would be utilized, according to a Success Academy spokesman.

There is demand in the area, according to the charter school network. Success Academy received about 850 applications from parents who live in School District 14 and roughly 550 applications from parents who live in nearby District 16, the spokesman added.

While some detractors pushed back against a co-location, others outright protested another Success Academy in the neighborhood. An online petition was launched in November objecting the proposal.

Parents criticized Success Academy’s methods Thursday, recalling their children's past experiences at the schools and saying the network does not adequately provide for special needs students.

Robert Gilliam, whose 10-year-old son attended Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1 a block away on Tompkins Avenue, said his son was “broken” and “devastated” by his time at the charter school.

His son, Jordan, was in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and did not receive the services he needed at Success, Gilliam said.

“For about six months, everything was fine. Once his reading comprehension went down and he had to get an IEP, everything changed,” Gilliam said. “He got disregarded like a piece of rag.”

The staff at P.S. 297 helped Jordan in his transition, he added, and the proposed new charter school would take what little space the elementary school has.

“Success is nothing but a money game. It’s nothing but about the numbers,” Gilliam said.

A Success Academy spokesman cited a survey administered by the DOE last year, in which 98 percent of Success Academy parents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall education their kids were receiving.

In addition, 15 percent of Success Academy students last year were listed as children with disabilities, he said. 

The charter school chain has recently faced criticism for singling out poor-performing or difficult students. Supporters have praised the network for students' high performance.

Another parent, Shanna Charles, said her experience at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 2 was “horrible,” with her son being suspended twice a month and the staff trying to “push him out.”

“Success Academy does not need to be inside P.S. 297,” Charles said. “This community has suffered enough.

“The only thing we should try to do in this community is try to build it up — and Success Academy is not a part of that.”

Teachers and students echoed similar sentiments, with many arguing that the proposed space for the charter school could be used for P.S. 297’s expansion.

“Why shouldn’t we be afforded the opportunity to grow our students beyond the fifth grade?” asked guidance counselor Jessica Cashman.

“Why do we have to let them go when we have the space to possibly make ourselves bigger and better than we already are?”

In addition to P.S. 297, the building currently provides space for community organization Good Shepherd and previously housed The Ethical Community Charter School, which shuttered at the end of June.

Now, the building serves approximately 256 students from the elementary school, making it “under-utilized” since it has the capacity for 659 students, according to the DOE.

Parents, teachers and community members can weigh in on the proposal by sending comments to D14Proposals@schools.nyc.gov or by calling 212-374-0208.  

The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the plan at 6 p.m. on Dec. 16 at the High School of Fashion Industries at 225 W. 24th St.