space wars

Parents contest charter schools proposed for crowded District 2

A hearing about Success Academy's proposed expansion into District 2 drew a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday evening.

A public hearing to discuss Success Academy’s bid to open two new charter schools in Manhattan’s District 2 next year was dominated by angry residents who said the district’s schools are too crowded to share space.

Parents from the district and members of its elected parent council said they opposed the proposal from the charter network because the district — which includes the Upper East Side down through Greenwich Village, Tribeca, and Lower Manhattan — is already overcrowded.

The council passed resolutions at the end of March calling for Success Academy to find its own building instead of moving into existing public schools and for a moratorium on charter school applications in the district.

“You can come in if you’re invited, but if the families are saying don’t come in, I don’t think you should come in,” said Shino Tanikawa, president of the Community Education Council for District 2. Tanikawa said she thinks of charter schools as “vampires.”

Most parents at the public hearing had children enrolled in one of the six schools located at the Julia Richman Education Complex on the Upper East Side or P.S. 158, whose co-located school, P.S. 267, is set to depart for its own space in September.

“What you’re essentially trying to do if you want to get into the complex is put 14 pounds of sand in a 10 pound bag,” said Guy Workman, whose daughter attends Talent Unlimited High School in the Richman Complex.

Widespread crowding is nothing new in District 2, and neither is criticism of Success Academy schools: The charge that it should find its own space has followed the network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, virtually wherever it has sought to open.

In February, a hearing about the network’s application for a school in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg attracted hundreds of people, both supporters and protesters who said the network shouldn’t get public space because it had not adequately recruited among Spanish-speaking families. That same month, a group of parents from Cobble Hill filed a lawsuit against Moskowitz and Success Academy to prevent the charter network from moving into a neighborhood school building. The two schools are among three the network is set to open this fall.

The network regularly encourages current parents to speak out at hearings about its proposed schools. On Tuesday, Ryan Dunn, the mother of twin boys who attend the network’s Upper West Side location, said Success had sped the progress of one son who had special needs. Parents should have a choice to be able to try to find alternative to their zoned schools, said Dunn, who was then interrupted by shouting from the small, crowded room. “People wouldn’t send in applications if there wasn’t interest,” Dunn added.

Neither Moskowitz nor representatives from the State University of New York charter board, which must approve the network’s application to open the new schools, attended the meeting, held at the Department of Education’s Midtown office.

So critics of the proposed schools directed their remarks toward the Recy Dunn, executive director of the city’s charter schools office. Parents questioned Dunn about which schools would be chosen to share space with incoming Success Academy schools, if the applications are approved, and over the late notification prior to the meeting.

“It was, as many parents said, very last minute. None of the PTA was able to come, so I’m going to be reporting back the information I got,” said Doris Moreira-Douek, whose daughter attends P.S. 2 in the Lower East Side near Chinatown. She found out about Tuesday’s hearing in a school letter sent home last week and said parents at P.S. 2 were prepared to fight if the department picks it to house a Success charter school.

The Department of Education typically places charter schools in space that it says is underused. The department has acknowledged the sweeping scale of overcrowding in many parts of District 2, and a spokeswoman for the Success Charter Network, Kerri Lyon, said today that it would only seek space in school buildings that are underutilized. Lyon said the network’s Upper West Side school had received 100 applications from District 2 families this year.

A handful of elementary schools in the district are not operating at full enrollment, especially in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, and multiple high schools in the district are being phased out, which would open up additional space.

The Department of Education has opened several new elementary schools in District 2 in recent years and another, the Peck Slip School, is set to open in September. Parents at the hearing said they preferred available space to be given to a new public middle school. They also said they weren’t against the charter network but argued that the schools should find locations outside of the district’s packed schools.

“The relationships that we built across the grades and across the different schools are amazing,” said Joshua Satin, vice-principal of Ella Baker School in the Richman Complex. “It’s a great place and it should not be touched.”

Success Academy Charter Schools has also applied to open a school in East Harlem’s District 4 next year and three new schools in Brooklyn. Mayor Bloomberg has said he is encouraging the network to expand quickly, and the six schools would be the most the network has opened in a single year.

Rose D’souza is a graduate student at Columbia University’s journalism school.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”