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.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.