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UFT, communities thwart co-locations

Grassroots opposition stops Success Academy
New York Teacher
A group of people standing on school steps holding signs
Erica Berger

Students, educators and other members of the school community protest a proposed Success Academy co-location at a rally on the Richard R. Green campus in the Bronx.

Students protest Success Academy

Students at MS 72 in southeast Queens let their opposition to a proposed co-location be known during a walkthrough by DOE officials at their school.

In a momentous victory for community and student activists working in tandem with the UFT, the city Department of Education on Jan. 23 withdrew proposals to widen Success Academy’s footprint in public school buildings in Queens and the Bronx that critics had warned would harm the educational progress of the students already in them.

Schools Chancellor David Banks issued a statement indicating that community opposition to the proposed co-locations at two campuses in southeastern Queens and a building in the northwest Bronx was the decisive factor in calling off the votes by the citywide Panel for Educational Policy.

“I’m glad that they finally listened to the voices of the stakeholders: the parents, the children, the educators, the community,” said Ehimanre Ebhomielen, the chapter leader for Preparatory Academy for Writers, one of four schools based at the Springfield Gardens Educational Complex in Queens. “It was going to take away resources from those who needed them most.”

Kelli Dallas, the chapter leader for Leaders for Tomorrow, one of the two Bronx middle schools on the Richard R. Green campus where Success Academy wanted to put a new elementary school, said the united opposition to the Bronx co-location proposal was fundamentally about not harming the public school students. “I don’t think our community is saying no to charter schools,” she said. “It’s saying no to co-locations.”

Dallas said she believes the chancellor changed his mind once students at the affected schools got “politically involved” against the co-locations. “When I heard the kids speaking,” she said, “his decision was right on time.”

UFT Queens Borough Representative Amy Arundell said she was “really proud” of how UFT members in the affected schools in the two boroughs came together with community members and elected state and city officials.

“We used our common concern and diversity of voices to amplify the struggle,” Arundell said. “All of us playing our roles got us to this moment — that was why it was so powerful.”

Under legislation pushed through by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo nine years ago at the height of his feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio, the DOE must either provide charter schools with free space in its own buildings or pay their rent in private buildings. Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz, a close political ally of Cuomo and now Mayor Eric Adams, has been the charter operator most keen on co-locations.

Some critics accuse Moskowitz of trying to gin up demand by the stark contrast between the high-gloss charter schools outfitted by her well-endowed chain and the under-resourced public schools in the same building.

Jason Hunter, a teacher at Excelsior Preparatory HS in Springfield Gardens, testified at a Dec. 15 hearing on the proposed co-location that Success’ arrival would “highlight the disparities in resources between public schools and charter schools.”

Other public school advocates draw a different distinction. “We take in students that have been let out of charter schools, that come from all sorts of economical and sociological statuses, and see them shine,” said Dallas, the Bronx chapter leader. “That’s what we do.”

In late 2022, the PEP approved Success Academy co-locations at a school building in Far Rockaway, Queens, and one in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, despite local opposition.

The community outcry became even louder against the next three proposals headed to the PEP for a vote.

School leadership, faculty and public school families from the affected Queens and Bronx schools argued that contrary to DOE claims that Success would be moving into underutilized buildings, the schools were using their space to serve students in a variety of ways. They said the co-locations would force the sharing of common spaces like auditoriums, gyms and cafeterias to the detriment of the public school students.

Members of these school communities also noted that their schools will need more space starting in September — when Success was hoping to open its new schools in their buildings — because of the new state law reducing class size.

At one public hearing in Queens, Barbara Lewis-Williams, the first vice president of the Community Education Council for District 28, said the co-location push didn’t square with Chancellor Banks’ previous pledge to be guided by community input on education decisions. “The community is saying we don’t want Success Academy in our schools,” she testified. “When are our voices going to be heard?”

Moskowitz persuaded parents of students attending other Success charter schools to pack all the hearings to speak in favor of the co-locations. But in the end, it was the voices of the members of the affected school communities that resonated.

“My school has one gym, one cafeteria and one auditorium for three schools,” testified one student at the Catherine and Count Basie campus in Rochdale Village, Queens. “And Success Academy is trying to cram us even more.”

In the end, Banks responded to the community objections and pulled the co-location proposals.

Najwa Waysome, an 11th-grader at Excelsior Preparatory HS who helped organize a student walkout and march between the two Queens campuses on Dec. 15, said she was “kind of surprised,” but also very happy that the co-location was off the table. “I feel very proud,” she said. “We did everything we could to get the word out. We managed to keep our school safe and keep it our own.”

Queens communities oppose Success co‑locations

An effort by Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy corporate charter school chain to elbow their way into two school buildings in southeastern Queens has met with unprecedented community opposition.

Money pit

With aggressive marketing, strong lobbying, perks like free rent and millions of dollars of contributions from billionaire investors and philanthropists, the number of Success Academy charter schools has expanded at the expense of traditional public schools.