space wars

Brooklyn parents bring concerns to heated co-location hearing

Judy O'Brien, the librarian at two schools in the building the city has proposed for a new charter school, speaks against the co-location plan. (Video below.)

Tensions ran high at the city’s first charter school co-location hearing of the year Tuesday night as advocates and opponents of the city’s plan to open a new Success Academy school in Brownstone Brooklyn packed the proposed site.

Officials from the Department of Education and SUNY’s Charter School Institute defended plans to add Brooklyn’s third Success Charter Network school to a four-story Cobble Hill building that already houses three other schools, saying that the building has space for all four schools.

The charter school would admit 80 to 90 kindergarten and first-grade students in 2012 and grow by one grade per year until becoming a kindergarten through 5th-grade school.

According to the DOE official in charge of new schools, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, enrollment at the charter school would ultimately increase to somewhere between 500 and 640 students, and the total number of students in the building would climb to 1,400 or more.

“That would bring the school to 108 percent occupancy,” he said.

In response, a member of the sometimes-rowdy audience who said he was a teacher and was later ejected by police after he shouted inappropriate words called out, “Where do you want the kids to learn, the bathrooms? Where do the other 8 percent go to class?”

Sternberg acknowledged that the charter school would grow too large for the building in 2016, when it would add fifth grade for the first time. He said the department had plans for the fifth grade to open at a separate site but emphasized that the Baltic Street building “is being contemplated as a long-term siting” for Cobble Hill Success. A second site could allow the school to grow should it choose to apply for an expanded charter to serve middle school grades.

“That is not unusual,” Sternberg said of the plan.

Educators and community leaders lobbed questions about the complications that co-locations raise and questioned whether the school would be better off in another Brooklyn district.

Members of District 15’s Community Education Council who led the first half of the meeting pressed the SUNY Charter Institute’s staff attorney, Tom Franta, to explain whether the school, which was approved for District 13, could legally open in District 15 instead as is now planned. Franta said it would be acceptable for the school to change locations within the borough without gaining new approval from SUNY.

But he said the school would need to seek approval from SUNY if it choses to eliminate the “at-risk design factors” in its charter, which features a lottery system that privileges low-income students and English Language Learners from Districts 13 and 14. The school has indicated to SUNY that it would seek those changes to its admissions system “at a later date,” Franta said.

Opposition to the co-location came throughout the four-hour-long meeting from teachers and families that attend the two secondary schools that inhabit the building, regular activists, and District 15 CEC members. The building also houses a small school for students with severe disabilities.

“I’m actually very much in favor of charter schools,” said Eddie Rodriguez, a member of CEC 15. “The charter that was authorized was to serve high-needs kids. Placing this particular charter here will not serve that need.”

Sternberg disputed the claim, voiced throughout the evening, that District 15 does not have high-needs students for the charter school to serve.

“We are geographically located near Red Hook; we are geographically located near a set of housing projects,” he said. “We believe this charter school has a record and a real commitment of serving high needs.”

A Success Charter Network school that opened this year in another neighborhood with many middle-class families and high-performing schools, the Upper West Side, 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Sternberg emphasized that District 15 students will have preference to gain seats at the new charter school, even though its current charter does not include this focus in its admissions process.

“This is going to be a district school of choice. It will attract families from across the district,” he said. “Upper West Side Success has 96 percent of families from District 3. Based on that track record we are quite certain that this organization will recruit District 15 and serve District 15.”

Teachers and families from the two schools said they are afraid splitting shared spaces three ways would squeeze instructional and lunch time.

“Our gym, our library, our cafeteria — these are spaces that within the building are already maxed out,” said Clare Daley, the technology teacher at the School for Global Studies, which jumped from an F report card grade to a B this year after low-performance brought federal “transformation” funds. “We are looking forward to expanding enrollment. … With this progress, why then would the DOE want to put another school in this building?”

Sternberg promised that the co-location would not negatively impact programs at the schools, which together offer special instruction in music, culinary arts, and creative writing.

Several students commended the small schools’ more intimate tone during the public comments portion of the hearing.

“Do you guys ever double check?” School for International Studies sophomore Alex Alvarez asked DOE officials. “Do you understand how hard it is to have a classroom of 30-35 students?”

Before the hearing, a half-dozen parents who said they live in District 15 rallied in the rain outside the Baltic Street building to support the charter school plan.

Jenna Sternbach, who lives nearby and has three children under the age of 5, said she prefers the creation of a Success Academy to the alternative proposal that has been floated by some community members in recent weeks, which would have an early childhood center open in the building to alleviate some of the demand for kindergarten options in the school.

“Success isn’t just a K through 1 option,” she said. “You’re not going to be scrambling to find a good middle school. You’re secure from kindergarten through eighth.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”