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Queens communities oppose Success co‑locations

Say charter schools would stymie public schools’ progress
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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.

When Mayor Eric Adams took office a year ago after pledging to support charter school expansion in New York City, Moskowitz had a new government ally in her bid to expand her Success Academy charter empire, just a few months after losing a powerful protector when Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned from office amid a sexual harassment scandal.

Cuomo had sided with Moskowitz in her feud with Adams' predecessor, Bill de Blasio, requiring the city, since 2014, to either find space in its buildings to accommodate charter expansion or else pay the charter schools' rent for private facilities. With a more sympathetic mayor in office, she moved quickly to capitalize, seeking co-locations with city schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx and three Queens districts. 

A co-location in Far Rockaway with the Waterside School for Leadership beginning in September 2023 was approved on Nov. 30 by the citywide Panel for Educational Policy by a surprisingly narrow 8-7 vote. PEP also gave its approval, 10-5, on Dec. 21 to a Success co-location at the Frank J. Macchiarola Educational Complex in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. A Bronx co-location vote is scheduled for Jan. 25.

But the other two school communities in southeast Queens have mustered fierce community opposition that has included student leaders in its ranks. Najwa Waysome, an 11th-grader at Excelsior Preparatory HS in Springfield Gardens, helped organize a Dec. 15 walkout of students against a proposed Success Academy co-location at the Springfield Blvd. campus because, she said, "We had to make sure the community hears us" about the harm the co-location would do to the four public schools on the grounds. 

When she learned that morning that ranking Department of Education officials were visiting MS 72, a Rochdale Village school that's also targeted for co-location, Najwa and her fellow student leaders decided to deliver a message to them by leading a 1.3-mile march of students to the Catherine and Count Basie campus that houses two middle schools and an elementary school. 

"My major concern is the programs they're going to deny new students," said Najwa, who is active in Excelsior's student leadership programs and clubs.

She was referring to the limited space now available at her campus that community activists, supported by the UFT, say will be needed by the four schools as their student populations continue growing and the new law limiting class size starts to take effect in September. That is also when Success wants to bring 270 to 300 students from kindergarten through 2nd grade to the campus.

During a Zoom hearing that evening on the proposed co-location at the Springfield Blvd. campus, the principals of the four schools joined parent leaders in questioning the DOE's assessment that there is enough space to accommodate the charter school. They said that bringing in Success would reverse progress made in recent years by the schools, in part by jeopardizing magnet grants received by the schools that are contingent on their student populations increasing by at least 5% annually.

Jason Hunter, an Advanced Placement biology teacher at Excelsior Prep, said the three high schools on the campus offer rigorous coursework, including seven AP classes, but he fears Success's arrival "will highlight the disparities in resources between public schools and charter schools." Ehimanre Behomielen, a chapter leader at the campus's Preparatory Academy for Writers, a Grade 6-12 school, said reductions in class size under the new state law "mean we need more space." He added that an alternative site that formerly housed a parochial school at 125-18 Rockaway Blvd. "was offered to Success and rejected."

Genevieve Jean, the PTA president for Preparatory Academy for Writers, added that co-location "shouldn't be happening at the expense of our students." 

Charlotte Curtis, whose daughter attends that school, spoke of problems with Success at another Springfield Gardens school, IS 59, where she is an educator. After Success arrived nearly a decade ago, she said, "We were made to feel as if we were strangers in our own building. We lost a science lab."

In the building that houses IS 59, Curtis said, Success has steadily expanded by one grade a year up to 8th grade and now has 965 students, compared with 390 attending IS 59. She said the charter school has booked the gym for every Saturday of the entire 2022-23 school year; IS 59 has asked a mediator to give it some Saturdays for events in the second half of the school year.

Similar complaints and concerns were expressed a night earlier at a hearing on the co-location on the Catherine and Count Basie campus. Moskowitz's efforts to mobilize parents of students from other Success schools became evident when virtually all of the first 60 "public" speakers at the hearing were Success parents insisting the co-location would pose no problems.

But a student at the Basie campus, Adam Ech Chedmi, testified, "My school has one gym, one cafeteria and one auditorium for three schools. This is not good. And Success Academy is trying to cram us even more."

The Panel for Educational Policy, which is controlled by mayoral appointees, will vote on Jan. 24 regarding these two Queens co-locations.

At the Dec. 14 public hearing, Barbara Lewis-Williams, the first vice president of the Community Education Council for District 28, said a co-location was inconsistent with Schools Chancellor David 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. "The students are saying we don't need Success Academy. When are our voices going to be heard?"

UFT, communities thwart co-locations

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.