Charter May Move into Brandeis

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By Allen Houston and Josh Rogers

Upper West Success, part of the Success Academy of Charter Schools, might have found a home at Louis D. Brandeis High School, located at 145 W. 84th St. The Department of Education announced that Brandeis might be a possibility for housing the disputed charter school last week.

Upper West Success has bounced around like a ping-pong ball during the past month, as it went from possibly being located at P.S. 145 to P.S. 165 to its new possible home at Brandeis, which currently houses five high schools, including four that are expanding. In addition to suggesting P.S. 145 and P.S. 165 as initial options for the new charter school, the DOE had also targeted Brandeis has one of the original three options for the charter school’s location.

“Brandeis is just one option under consideration but no final decisions have been made yet,” said Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, Department of Education spokesperson.

But Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Charter Network, made Brandeis sound close to a done deal in a statement Nov. 18. “[It] would be a great victory for families on the Upper West Side,” she said. She didn’t return calls in time for press on Monday.

The way was cleared for the new charter school after the State University of New York’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved Success Academy’s application Oct. 27.

Zarin-Rosenfeld said that in addition to building new schools, the DOE was committed to finding new existing space within the district.

“We live in Manhattan and space is a luxury,” he said. “We believe in giving all parents in the district as many options as possible on where to send their children to school.”

Brandeis currently has a capacity threshold of 2,148 students with 1,885 enrolled in the five high schools in the building. Brandeis High School, which is being phased out, has roughly 860 students in the 11th and 12th grade, according to the DOE. The other high schools located in the building include Global Learning Collective, Urban Assembly School For Green Careers, Innovative Diploma Plus and Frank McCourt High School.

A charter school opponent, Noah E. Gotbaum, president of Community District Education Council 3, said that at his group’s last meeting a few weeks ago Elizabeth Rose, director of the office of portfolio planning for the DOE, told the council that Brandeis was technically “underutilized,” but that it is not an option for new schools because of the expansion plans of the existing schools.

Moskowitz, in her statement, said the charter will help relieve the Upper West Side’s crowding problems because it “will give preference” to District 3 families.

Gotbaum said that’s not true.

Reading from the school’s charter application, he said students and siblings at Success schools, District 3 English Language Learners, students from “at risk schools” all over the city, will have priority over most District 3 students.

The DOE’s Zarin-Rosenfeld didn’t dispute the notion that neighborhood children would be given a low priority under the current application, but he suggested that could very well change.

“For our part, the DOE is committed to working out a lottery to ensure that CEC3 students will be given preference on enrollment,” he said.

Jeff Holman, a West Side parent and charter backer, said if his child were given a low-priority ranking at the school, “It would hurt me, but it would help children in bad schools more. We’re in a great school right now.”

Holman, who’s a friend of Harlem Success board members, said his child was shut out of P.S. 9 kindergarten until May of last year and he would consider applying to the charter. He’s disappointed, but only slightly, that it will likely be in a high school.

“I think our preference would be to be in an elementary building, but it’s not a huge preference,” he said.

Debra Warren, another charter backer, said she was so frustrated with last year’s drawn-out application process at P.S. 199 that she enrolled her son in a private school. She is now “soured” on the traditional public application process, but the charter could tempt her back to the public schools

“I’ve heard incredible things about the freedom of teachers to teach” and other innovative programs at Success charters, she said.

The DOE said that if Brandeis is chosen for the charter it would draw up specifics for how the school would be shared including how many rooms would be used by Upper West Success and what resources would be allocated to it.

“Ultimately, this is an issue that the school, and SUNY will have to work out,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said.

Councilwoman Gail Brewer was seen literally jumping for joy on Election Day when she thought she had prevented the charter from opening, but Monday she was angry that plans were afoot to open at Brandeis.

“I’m adamantly opposed to it,” Brewer said. “All of those high schools that are located in there are going to grow. Also, it doesn’t make sense to put elementary and high school students together.”

Brewer said that, in recent years, the school has been the recipient of a $22-million makeover for its science labs, gym and other amentities.

“The fact is that we need a middle school more than we do an elementary school,” she said. “We already offer plenty of choices for good schools in the district.”

Zarin-Rosenfeld said in a statement: “DOE has scarce space and that space is best used to build on the success of our Community School District 3 schools and foster their growth and expansion. I believe that, in general—and specifically in this case—a charter school should not take precedence over promising new traditional public schools.”

Upper West Success—part of the Success Academy chain of charter schools—already has a website running and is taking applications. In just one month, it claims to have received 357 applications from families that want to attend the school. Of those, 233 are from District 3.

According to Gotbaum, he has been deluged with mail promoting the school, so he is not surprised there are hundreds of applications.

Moskowitz also said in her statement that “parents desperately want and need more high-quality, tuition-free options for their kids. Upper West Success Academy offers them just that.”

If all goes according to plan, Upper West Success Academy will open as a K-1 school with up to 190 seats open to students. When it achieves scale, the school will go all the way from kindergarten through eighth grade, but they said, not all schools would be located at the same campus. By the time they are K-4, they will have up to 500 students.

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