Tensions still simmering around two co-locations set for vote

Tensions over space are still running high in some city school buildings.

At a public hearing focused on a one-grade expansion of a Success Academy charter school in Bedford-Stuyvesant last week, Success parents openly clashed with the administrators and parents of the three schools it shares a building with. And the city’s plan to relocate three grades of Academic Leadership Charter School brought its own protests in Mott Haven.

The concerns and occasional hostility voiced at the hearings offer a reminder of the discord that can come from the city’s policy of co-locating schools, even as the de Blasio administration has committed to reducing those tensions. Both proposals will get a final vote at this week’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

At last week’s hearing at 70 Tompkins Avenue in Brooklyn, administrators from Foundations Academy, The School for the Urban Environment, and a District 75 school that share the building with the Success Academy testified that space was already tight and coordinating schedules was difficult, even though the building is officially at only 67 percent capacity. Success is looking to add a fifth grade to the elementary school.

Success Academy parents pushed back from the audience, many holding signs that read, “Support great schools” and “Don’t evict my child.”

“[The high school students] don’t come to school anyway!” one Success parent yelled at Foundations Academy Principal Neil Monheit as he testified about his ongoing discomfort at having his high-school students as old as 21 sharing bathrooms with elementary-school students.

Kourtney Boyd, principal at The School for the Urban Environment middle school, told the audience she opposed Success’ expansion not because she is opposed to co-location, calling it “the nature of the beast when you live in New York City.” Instead, she said, giving more space to Success would exacerbate the problems accessing “space that we already battle for on a daily basis.”

Boyd echoed the complaints of co-located district and charter schools across the city, noting that tight scheduling in the cafeteria means late lunches and limited use of the gym for after-school programming and sports for students. Jocelyn Nedd, principal of the District 75 school P.S. 368K, added that the building’s library had also been dismantled to add space.

Javeria Khan, principal of Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1, received loud cheers from the audience as she approached the stage to speak. She said it was crucial for existing fourth graders to be able to reach fifth grade in what she called “one of the top performing schools in the entire state of New York.” (The percentage of students who passed the state math and English tests in 2014 at Bed-Stuy 1, which had one tested grade that year, were among the highest in the city.)

During the public comments section of the meeting, parents did not hold back. One Success Academy father looked at the stage of principals as he said, “Sending my kid to a Success Academy prevents them from attending a Foundations Academy.”

A mother from Foundations Academy who spoke shortly after told the audience she felt “bullied” after listening to the comments made about her school, and that she was concerned that there would eventually be no room left for her own child. “What happens after fifth grade?” she asked, only for the parents to yell back, “Sixth grade! Sixth grade! Sixth grade!”

Under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the city has made a number of moves to try to reduce space-sharing tensions. Officials said a deputy chancellor personally toured both buildings under consideration and had held additional meetings for parents and the school leadership team. A working group released its own set of recommendations last year, which included the creation of a system to monitor “high-risk co-locations” and providing schools with additional resources to solve scheduling disputes.

Speaking after the meeting, Success Academy Principal Khan said that the emotions in the room were indicative of the “parents’ passion” for the growth of the school. She pointed out that at about 430 students, her enrollment is almost four times the enrollment of each of the other schools in the building.

The building’s other schools “are losing students for the very reasons that our parents are here,” she said, adding that she felt “hopeful” that the Panel for Educational Policy vote would yield a positive result for Success Academy.

Meanwhile, another public hearing on the city’s proposal to move a charter school into P.S. 277’s building in the Bronx next fall drew heated reaction from parents in the Mott Haven elementary school.

The city has proposed moving up to 175 fifth through seventh graders at Academic Leadership Charter School to the school next year. They would join P.S. 277’s nearly 500 kindergarten through fifth graders.

Ted Hurwitz, co-founder of the Academic Leadership Charter School, asked the full auditorium “how wonderful” it would be to co-locate his school in the St. Ann’s Avenue building. His rhetorical question was greeted with a chorus of “No!”

There, as in Bedford-Stuyvesant, parents disputed the city’s estimated space utilization figure for the building and said they worried about the mix of older and younger students.

“We have conducted unprecedented outreach to families around these proposals, while also recognizing that – where possible – continuity is an important part of ensuring students thrive,” Department of Education spokesman Harry Hartfield said. “When schools collaborate, share resources, and work to meet the needs of every child in the building – no matter what school they may attend – our students ultimately benefit.”