UFT members, parents and community advocates at PS 335 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, have won a major victory: Not only did they defeat a Department of Education proposal to co-locate a charter elementary school inside their building, but they also successfully advocated for the opening of a new public middle school in the space instead.
“Our motto is that it takes a village, so it was truly a village effort where everybody came together and voiced their opinion,” said Sherry Langdon, the chapter leader at PS 335.
A thriving UFT community learning school, PS 335 had been previously co-located with MS 584, a renewal school that was closed in June 2017 because of poor performance. Members of the PS 335 community expected the available space in the building to be filled by another school, but they were blindsided by a notice in early November that the DOE intended to fill the space with an Uncommon Schools charter elementary school.
District 16 Representative Camille Eaddy said the DOE had quietly scheduled an informational meeting for Nov. 2 about the proposal just two days after notifying the community — and had already scheduled a December vote by the citywide Panel for Educational Policy, which must approve new co-location arrangements.
“Our primary concern was that the voice of the community and its needs weren’t being addressed,” said Sharon Wedderburn, the education chair of Community Board 8 in Crown Heights. “Having a successful school is more than having chairs and tables and space in a room; it has to meet the needs of the community. And to think that a community cannot advocate for itself and doesn’t know what it needs is disrespectful.”
Designed to act as a “feeder school” into an Uncommon middle school in a neighboring district, the Uncommon elementary school was likely to siphon students from PS 335 and then send them out of their home district after 5th grade.
“That was the first red flag,” said NeQuan McLean, the president of District 16’s Community Education Council. “Uncommon is a charter that we as a district do a lot of collaboration with, but it does not make sense to put this charter school in this building that’s going to serve students of the same age.”
Concerned community members and UFT members turned out at the Nov. 2 meeting, which DOE Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson attended, to voice their concerns and advocate for a new middle school to replace MS 584 so that PS 335 students could continue their education in their home neighborhood.
“We think children should have a quality education within walking distance of their homes, and we want to provide a high-quality public school for them,” said Wedderburn, who spoke at the meeting.
Just weeks after PS 335 advocates mobilized to express their concerns, the DOE released a new plan to open a public middle school in PS 335’s building in September 2018.
“Our voices were heard, and we’re ecstatic about that,” said Langdon.