BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Despite strong opposition from teachers and parents, a new Success Academy is slated to move into a Bed-Stuy school in the new year after the city’s Department of Education voted to approve the charter school’s opening and co-location.
The DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy gave the green-light to place Success Academy Bed-Stuy 3 in the same building as P.S. 297, despite protests from critics who say the charter school would rob the existing elementary school of space used by special needs students.
Dozens of teachers, staff, parents and students from P.S. 297 at 700 Park Ave. opposed Success Academy’s co-location at Wednesday’s PEP meeting, urging panel members to vote against the proposal.
Eight members voted in favor and four opposed — with those against the plan raising concerns about P.S. 297’s future after Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced she would consider making it a Community School.
Speaker after speaker lined up at the High School of Fashion Industries auditorium, saying Success Academy would take away a second-floor wing dedicated to services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy.
The DOE’s deputy chancellor of operations, Elizabeth Rose, acknowledged that in the 2018-2019 school year, P.S. 297 would lose three full-size classrooms and one quarter-sized space it currently occupies.
She added that the school would continue to have more full-size classrooms for its support services.
Detractors, including the existing school’s principal, argued that the charter's proposed space could be used for P.S. 297's own expansion to a middle school, which they said they repeatedly applied for but were denied.
The DOE cited low English Language Arts and math proficiency at the school, as well as a decline in enrollment. The school had a 28 percent overall decrease in enrollment over the past five years, with a 40 percent decline in the number of incoming kindergarten students, according to the agency.
In addition, DOE representatives pointed out that there are other middle schools in the district with low enrollment, and the creation of more seats would negatively impact other schools.
Fariña said Wednesday that any discussion of opening a middle school would be “premature,” though one announcement garnered applause from the elementary school’s supporters.
“I understand the passion. I understand the concerns,” Fariña said to attendees.
“I also understand that things that you spoke of, there is one thing that I will try to reconsider, and that’s making you a Community School.”
Community Schools serve as neighborhood hubs for students and families. The chancellor gave a nod to Good Shepherd Services, a nonprofit that offers resources out of P.S. 297, adding that the possible designation would give the school a chance to grow.
Prior to the vote, some PEP members suggested delaying the decision to place Success Academy in the building until details regarding the Community School classification were ironed out.
Fred Baptiste, the panel’s Brooklyn representative, said an immediate approval to co-locate the charter school could negatively affect the possibility of a P.S. 297 expansion.
P.S. 297 staff said a previous co-location with another charter school that shuttered in June prevented the elementary school’s growth.
“We may be locking ourselves in, where they cannot make the expansion,” Baptiste said. “I hate to put a blanket on this where charter schools are bad, co-locations are bad … there are instances where it works.
“But with this population, with this school, with the changes they’re making, with the fragileness of the school community, I really have to question whether this fits in Bed-Stuy.”
Fariña and Rose emphasized that the Community Schools model does not require additional space and does not change the school’s footprint, adding that it’s about providing more programs and services.
Critics of Success Academy say the charter school network is “oversaturating” the neighborhood, as it already operates two sites within a three-block radius of P.S. 297.
Others in attendance cited the proposed closure of two nearby schools, which share a building with Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1.
“If these two schools are being closed down, why can’t Success Academy stay in that building where they already have space, and give us the room we need to expand for our children’s education that they deserve?” said Christine Petito, a P.S. 297 parent.
P.S. 297's building is under-utilized, according to the DOE, and has the capacity for 659 students, according to the DOE.
With the approval, Success Academy Bed-Stuy 3 will have up to 160 students in kindergarten and first grade starting in the 2016 school year, and will add one grade level each year, plans show.
"Success Academy is thrilled to serve more families in Bed-Stuy, where demand for additional great schools continues to be off the charts," a Success Academy spokesman said.
"Our current schools in the neighborhood outperformed many of the city's selective programs, and our parents are extremely happy."
The DOE will be in communication with P.S. 297 and Success Academy to mediate any concerns over space and “to ensure that the children are being well served,” Fariña said.
“Let’s work on this together,” she added.