Supporters cheered and detractors jeered as dozens took to the microphone Thursday night at the citywide Panel for Educational Policy meeting to debate four proposals about charter schools sharing space in public school buildings.
Under the recommendation of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, panel members voted to table the the space-sharing proposals until the February or March meetings.
“I strongly believe that everyone needs to be heard on the issue before the PEP votes,” Fariña said at the beginning of the meeting, noting the high attendance.
Dozens of parents, students, teachers and administrators voiced their opinions on the necessity of suitable educational space at the meeting.
Filled almost to capacity, the ground floor of the auditorium of the Taft Education Complex in the Bronx was abuzz with discussion.
Audience members organized themselves in separate clusters. Public school parents held up brightly colored fluorescent sheets that read “No Co-Loco,” while Success Academy supporters waved posters with slogans like, “Say yes to success!”
Echoing the sentiments of other community members in the audience, Tessa Wilson, president of Community Education Council 14 in Williamsburg, asked the panel to halt any decisions on co-locations while the Department of Education’s annual report on building capacity, the Blue Book, could be revised.
Mayor De Blasio had convened The Blue Book Working Group as part of his efforts to improve the way decisions are made about schools sharing space in public school buildings.
“With a new administration and mayor who promised us a moratorium, we are still trying to shoehorn kids into spaces they can’t fit into,” said Noah Gotbaum, a District 3 Community Education Council member from Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Parents of students in P.S. 277 in Mott Haven spoke of their school’s progress and turnaround, which they worry might be hindered if the Academic Leadership Charter School were to move in next school year.
The school needs all the space it can get to serve its special needs and English language learners, said Jennifer Ortiz, a P.S. 277 teacher.
“We keep hearing our building is underutilized, but specialists use that fifth floor,” Ortiz said. “Let our students, our kids progress.”
Lakeesta Dawson, who has a daughter in the first grade at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 2, joined other charter parents at the mic with passionate testimonials.
“We live in Bed-Stuy and we shouldn’t have to find another space,” Dawson said.
Success Academy’s other elementary location in Bed-Stuy, which serves Kindergarten through fourth grade, is seeking to expand to the fifth inside a Brooklyn building shared with a public middle and high school and a special needs District 75 program.
“Every child deserves an equal opportunity for education,” she said.
Stories of students who found a place at charter schools also extended to other schools looking to co-locate or expand, including the Academic Leadership Charter School.
A proposed expansion of The Young Women’s Leadership School in the Bronx, an all-girls public school looking to expand from grades 6 through 8 to high school, also brought about much public debate.
One I.S. 117 mother, speaking in Spanish, spoke of the necessity to offer equal education opportunities to children of both genders in the Bronx.
“I’m saddened for P.S. 117 — that you feel that we’re taking over your space,” said The Young Women’s Leadership parent Sonia Villanueva of the Morris Heights school. “We shouldn’t be fighting for space because we can create something so much more than the fighting that occurs now.”
More than two hours into the meeting, community members continued to speak in support of their schools. Windows were cracked open to bring wintry air into the packed space.
Matthew Shufro, a former Massachusetts public school teacher, was frustrated with the way the conversation had turned from use of space to the merits of a public or charter school education.
“Parents who care deeply about the education of their children are being pitted against each other,” said Shufro, adding that he did not have a child in the system. “Concerns for co-location should be about the unintentional consequences that may affect the community already in these buildings.”
In other business:
- The PEP approved an agreement between the city and Local 891, International Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO for custodial engineers.
- It was voted that P.S. 152 Gwendoline N. Alleyne School in Queens would become a K-5 school in fall.
- A proposed change at Central Park East II was approved, making it a K-8 school. Middle school grades will be co-located in the Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro complex with P.S. 108.