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Tweed OKs unwanted Eva in Cobble Hill
‘Success’ charter given space in building with three schools despite community opposition
by Micah Landau | January 19, 2012 New York Teacher issue
When charter school impresario Eva Moskowitz comes knocking at your school’s door, the Department of Education lays out the welcome mat.
That’s what parents and educators in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood discovered when the city’s Panel for Educational Policy on Dec. 14 gave the green light to the co-location of Moskowitz’s new Success Academy Cobble Hill in a local school building already housing three schools — despite overwhelming community opposition and an approval process so deeply flawed it is likely to wind up in court.
Led by their UFT chapter leaders, the school communities at the building’s two 6-12 schools, the Brooklyn School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, have been trying to fend off the impending co-location of the Moskowitz charter since the fall.
Both schools stand to lose a great deal if the co-location moves forward. International Studies will lose almost half of its classroom space and could lose its culinary arts program, which was funded by local politicians and businesses, while at Global, a transformation school, the state-of-the-art computer lab will be put at risk and plans to introduce more AP classes and other new programming will go up in smoke.
Class size will, in all likelihood, climb upward in both schools, and shared spaces like the gymnasium and cafeteria will be crammed to the max.
But it is the process by which the co-location was approved that has caused the most consternation.
According to International Studies Chapter Leader Jeff Tripp, teachers and parents at the two schools first learned that their building was on the short list to host the Moskowitz school from an October newspaper article that listed it as one of three buildings under consideration. There was no advance warning, from either Moskowitz or the DOE.
“She never engaged any community leaders, any community groups, anybody,” Tripp said about Moskowitz’s sudden incursion into the neighborhood, noting that the one community meeting she did finally hold was summarily ended when too many opponents of her plan showed up.
School librarian Judy O’Brien, who serves both Global and International, said that both the local community board and community education council were also kept in the dark by Moskowitz and the DOE.
“The community was never consulted beforehand about our needs. This was basically a done deal by the time it was announced,” O’Brien said.
The educators say that Moskowitz never even bothered to apply to open a school in District 15, where Cobble Hill is located, and began to solicit applications for the school weeks before the DOE had even held a hearing on it.
What’s more, O’Brien said, Success Academy Cobble Hill is slated to have grades K-5, but the DOE has already acknowledged that in four years the building will be at 108 percent capacity and there will be no room for the new school’s 5th grade.
“Even by their own estimates, they are overcrowding the building,” O’Brien said. “The DOE is setting up our schools for failure so that Eva Moskowitz’s school can expand.”
Tripp fears that Moskowitz is “planning on taking the building.” He points out that she is already advertising the school, which will open in the fall, as K-8.
An alternative plan to use the limited space available in the building for a badly needed early education program — a plan developed by community residents and one that would not have encroached on the existing schools’ resources — wasn’t even addressed by the DOE.
The educators at the two Cobble Hill schools blasted the DOE for what they characterized as a sham of an approval process.
O’Brien described the DOE’s Nov. 29 hearing on the co-location at the school building as a “complete farce” during which teachers and parents “testified for four hours and at the end of the night [Deputy Chancellor] Marc Sternberg answered questions as if he hadn’t heard one word that was spoken.”
The PEP vote on Dec. 14 in favor of co-location was itself a charade, they said. Global Studies Chapter Leader Clare Baley called the decision to move the meeting from a central location in Manhattan to a distinctly inaccessible one in Queens “dishonest” and clearly intended to avoid the Cobble Hill community.
Baley said the process has left many teachers in the building feeling powerless and “like nobody hears them.” The outcome, she said, was especially demoralizing for Global, which last year went from an F to a B on its School Progress Report.
“We were told we were being given a second shot by the DOE, but now we’re rewarded with a co-location and our enrollment is being capped,” Baley said. “There’s a hopelessness. We feel like once again the DOE is sticking it to us and to the kids.”
Nevertheless, both Baley and Tripp said that, with an entire community behind them, they and their colleagues are committed to continuing to fight, however they can.
“We all knew what the outcome would be,” Tripp said of the effort up until now. “But the fact that so many people still came out — it was inspiring.”