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Eva's bad neighbor policy

Success Charter makes insulting, insensitive demands in Harlem

New York Teacher
Jonathan Fickies

Staffers, including Academy for Social Action Chapter leader Griffith Terry (holding cup), are not pleased with a Success Academy Charter School’s attempts to bully the co-located district schools.

Jonathan Fickies

UFT Manhattan Borough Representative Dwayne Clark makes a point during the meeting while teacher Tracey Steele of the Renaissance Leadership Academy looks on.

When an Eva Moskowitz Success Academy Charter School moved into a Harlem school building in September, she wanted the front door for the exclusive use of her own students and staff.

“They asked us not to use the front door,” said a still incredulous Griffith Terry, the chapter leader of the Academy for Social Action, one of the four district schools that occupy the building. “They wanted us to go around the block and use the side entrance.”

The outraged teachers flatly refused.

“We’ve worked well with charter schools before, but not this time,” said Terry.

Grievances from the teachers at the four schools came pouring out at an early-morning meeting with UFT President Michael Mulgrew on Sept. 30.

“They don’t want us to walk in their halls,” reported an exasperated Jennifer Grant, a special education teacher at the Academy of Social Action.

Daphne La Bua-Stenzel, the chapter leader at the Urban Assembly Institute of New Technology, said that space needs had become so great that her principal, Jeffrey Chetiko, gave up his office so teachers could have a faculty lounge.

And while Success Academy had tried to reserve the auditorium for the entire year, the four principals sharing the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. campus agreed only to give the space to her for two weeks.

The four-story building is next to the three-building, 20-story Manhattanville public housing development. The fourth district school in the building is the Renaissance Leadership Academy.

The teachers’ anger is not just about what they call the insulting and insensitive demands for space and facilities but about how the forced co-location is affecting their students. The improvements that Success Academy has made to its quarters on the third floor — just as it has in all its co-located schools thanks to the deep pockets of its hedge-fund backers — have left their mark.

Among changes to the third floor, says Grant, are refurbished bathrooms, new classroom doors and new carpeting. Meanwhile, the charter’s students all have been given blue LL Bean Success Academy backpacks and spiffy classroom binders with straps and zippers.

Grant said one of her students asked why their classroom still had “a jail door” but the other school didn’t.

“They come in and change everything,” complained Diane Johnson, who teaches at the Urban Assembly for the Performing Arts. “It’s so unfair to our children and creates a class system in public schools.”

As the Moskowitz empire continues to grow — 22 schools in seven years— so does the acrimony. Each time one of the 15 Success charter schools now occupying District 5 school buildings has moved in, UFT Manhattan Borough Representative Dwayne Clark, who previously represented the district, said he has faced the affronts and demeaning demands it has made on the host schools. District schools have also felt the impact on their registers as Success Academy spends hundreds of thousands of dollars recruiting their students.

Mulgrew reminded teachers from the four schools that the best way to diminish the political clout that Moskowitz enjoys in Albany is by electing candidates to the state Legislature who support maintaining the cap on the growth of charters and revoking legislation passed last spring that now forces New York City to turn over space in public schools to charters or pay their rent.

“There is a war going on over public schools and we are in the middle of the fight,” Mulgrew declared, “but we need a Democratic legislature to stop the charter movement and the efforts to privatize public education.”