News stories

Sharing building would put squeeze on Gravesend school

Bruce Cotler Journalism teacher Camille Sperrazza is armed with reasons that a co-location would be bad for IS 281 in Brooklyn.
Bruce Cotler This student gives a thumbs-down to an invasion by the Coney Island Prep charter school.

“I’m 52 years old. The last few years I’ve learned more about computers from my son than I ever knew before,” observed John Talmadge, a past PTA co-president at IS 281 in Gravesend, Brooklyn.

Talmadge’s son knows what he does about computers thanks to his middle school’s computer program, but now that program — along with the school’s journalism, media, robotics, vocal music, band, science, art and dance programs — is at risk due to the Department of Education’s plans to co-locate Coney Island Prep charter school in IS 281’s building.

Talmadge, who has remained involved with the school although his son moved on to high school last June, was one of around 100 parents who came out on Oct. 21 to protest the co-location at a rally before the school-based hearing on it.

“When I was a kid, we didn’t have as many options as kids today,” Talmadge said of the school’s wide array of offerings. “It would be a shame to take them away.”

The school’s entire staff — more than 100 teachers and others — and around 300 of its 1,200 students also attended the rally and public hearing.

UFT Chapter Leader Theresa Cardazone, a social studies teacher, expressed the frustration of her entire staff when she described the space crunch the co-location would cause. “We already share classrooms,” Cardazone said. “We’d have nowhere to plan and grade papers and do all the other things we need to do.”

The DOE claims there is sufficient space for the charter school, but that’s because it counts the library and other “specialized rooms” like the computer lab and media room as empty, she said.

Journalism teacher Camille Sperrazza said she’s afraid that the school’s award-winning student newspaper, New Image, will be irreparably harmed by the loss of space if the co-location proceeds.

Every year since she took it over 18 years ago, Sperrazza said, the newspaper has received first-place honors from the American Scholastic Press Association, and last year it was named the “Most Outstanding Middle School Newspaper” in the country.

But Sperrazza said that could all come to an end if students lose access to or are forced to share the journalism room where they produce the paper. The cost to their education would be tremendous, she said.

“It’s real-life experience,” Sperrazza said. “In English class, children write something and only the student and teacher see it. In journalism class, you have the opportunity to be published and read by around 4,000 readers. What could be more motivating than that?”

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy rubber-stamped the co-location proposal at its meeting at the Prospect Heights Campus on Oct. 30.

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