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Students will take leading role at new District 13 middle school

A student in Darby Masland's sixth grade class uses an iPad to look up the definition of illustrious for her classmates during unison reading. Unison reading is a core of the method that will inform a new Clinton Hill middle school. In September, sixth graders at a new middle school in Clinton Hill will regularly stand at the front of the class to share a vocabulary word, or how to solve a math problem. And feedback from fellow students will be valued as much as feedback from their teachers. In more than a dozen city schools, teachers are taking a literal backseat in their classroom as they adopt a student-driven teaching method called Learning Cultures. But Urban Assembly Unison School is the first to be built from bottom up around the method. Unlike some of the schools that use Learning Cultures to help immigrant students learn English, Unison probably won't be serving a large population of English language learners. District 13, where the school will open, has relatively few ELLs. But Learning Cultures is flexible enough to challenge and support any students, said Jennifer Ostrow, the co-founder and principal of the school. She said she heavily recruited ELLs from outside the district, but students who live in District 13, which has had a dearth of high-quality middle schools, got priority for admission. (The school is still accepting applicants, Ostrow said.) "I am really excited to create what I think will be an excellent middle school and hope will be a valuable contribution to our community," Ostrow said.
New York

Showdown set for year's first charter school co-location hearing

Many of the attendees who lined up outside Brooklyn Tech for last February's Panel for Educational Policy meeting came to protest the creation of a Success Academy Charter School on the Upper West Side. Back-to-back rallies set for this afternoon augur a contentious co-location hearing for the newest outpost in the Success Charter Network. The creation of Cobble Hill Success Academy, which won approval earlier this year to open next fall in Brooklyn's District 13, has sparked conflict in District 15, the location of the school's proposed site. Advocates and critics of the city's plan to co-locate the charter school with two secondary schools and a special education program will lay out their cases during tonight's public hearing — and beforehand, in rallies set for outside the Baltic Street building. The public hearing is the first of the year and ushers in a season of rancorous co-location hearings. Some families have lamented crowding in high-performing local elementary schools and said they would appreciate new options. But others say they are worried that the new school would strain resources at the proposed site without effectively serving the high-needs populations it was originally intended to serve. Cobble Hill Success's promise to serve low-income, immigrant families in District 13 was a boon to its application, according to Pedro Noguera, an education professor who green-lighted the school's original application as a member of the State University of New York's Charter Schools Institute. "We have tried to take the position recently that we can put charter schools where there is clearly a need for better schools for kids, so targeting the more disadvantaged communities. We have also seen the areas that are a saturation of charter schools, so we want to encourage them to open in areas that have a high need and aren't being served," said Noguera, who will be participating in an education debate this evening in the West Village. "A school in Cobble Hill clearly does not meet that criteria." 
New York

A two-school solution in Park Slope has critics crying racism

A group of Park Slope parents is in an uproar over the city's plan to build a new school building that they say will house two "separate but equal" elementary schools. But schools officials say the plan is exactly how community leaders wanted it. The plan would replace PS 133's century-old school building in North Park Slope with a brand new building on the same site. The catch is that the shiny new space will house not just PS 133 but also a new school whose students are likely to be whiter, more affluent, and better prepared for school. That's because in an unusual arrangement, the two schools will belong to different districts. PS 133 is located in District 13, which stretches from Brooklyn Heights to Crown Heights. The second school, slated to be twice the size of PS 133, will be part of District 15, which begins just blocks away, and is intended to reduce crowding at PS 321, which is 62 percent white and has only a small fraction of students eligible for free lunch. On average, students in District 15 perform better on state tests than students in District 13. Parents and community activists say the presence of two separate schools with different demographic compositions would amount to a regression to the days of racial segregation. Via e-mail and Twitter, they are bombarding schools officials and City Council members from the area with requests for a different use of the new building. "This is an issue that demands creative leadership from you and Councilman [Bill] DeBlasio," a District 13 mother, Paget Walker, wrote to City Councilman David Yassky.