Classroom’s End

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IS A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL BEING SHOVED OUT OF THE BRANDEIS COMPLEX TO MAKE ROOM FOR A GROWING CHARTER SCHOOL?

Innovation Diploma Plus (IDP) is a high school designed to give students a second chance. A “transfer school,” it accepts people under-credited and over-aged—typically 18 years or older—who had a rough time in their original school, and are at risk of failing. Of its 189 students, many come from unstable homes. Some have children of their own and work to support their families. All are Black or Latino.

The Department of Education recently sparked a fierce debate when it proposed the relocation of IDP from its current place in the Brandeis Education Complex at 145 W. 84th St. to a building uptown at 601W. 183rd St. The Brandeis Education Complex currently houses five schools in one building: four other small high schools and Upper West Success Academy, a charter elementary school. The Washington Heights building will be vacated next school year, so if IDP were to move, it would be the only school in the building.

According to DOE, giving IDP students their own educational space would be beneficial. “The students will get more space, having their own building, and be closer to their community-based partner,” DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg said in an e-mail. That “partner” is Alianza Dominicana, a nonprofit community development organization at 2410 Amsterdam Ave. Feinberg also noted that many students will have a shorter commute: 21 percent of students live in school district 6, whereas 7 percent live in the school’s current district, 3.

In October, the DOE released a 10-page educational impact statement that detailed the anticipated effects of the move on students and the school’s community. “The DOE does not anticipate that this proposal will impact the partnerships, programs, extracurricular activities and/or clubs offered at Innovation,” the statement said. “Students would continue to have the opportunity to participate in a variety of extracurricular programs, though the specific programs offered at a given school are always subject to change.” The statement added DOE’s intention to provide facilities for science and physical education classes, which do not currently exist in the building.

Many parents and administrators involved with Innovation, however, disagree that the move would benefit students. Leading up to a public hearing on the proposal on Dec. 4, Innovation community members began speaking out against the relocation, and questioning DOE’s intentions.

“As soon as the [relocation] announcement came out, the writing was on the wall,” said Christine Annechino, president of Community Education Council District 3 (CEC 3). Like many of the move’s opponents, she suspected that DOE’s hope for relocation might be motivated by a desire to cater to the interests of Success Academy, the educational complex’s lone charter elementary school. Success is a prominent educational power in New York, with schools open across the city. The Upper West branch moved into the Brandeis complex last year against the protests of many parents and school officials, who went as far as signing a lawsuit to block the school on the grounds that it would overcrowd the complex and take over arts resources.

Tensions between Success and the other co-located schools remain. With many young, high-achieving students and plans for expansion in the complex, opponents to the move reason, Success has a clear motive for favoring the relocation of IDP’s students.

In an e-mail exchange, Upper West Success Academy did not respond to questions about allegations of favoritism. “We are hopeful and confident that IDP, Success Upper West and the other schools that share space in the Brandeis building can continue to work cooperatively and collaboratively to offer the best education to all students,” the school said.

Favoritism or not, though, opponents to the relocation argued that students at IDP and the Brandeis complex in general both would suffer if IDP moved uptown. “You feel bad for the kids. They’re in a really disadvantaged position,” Annechino said. “Innovation students are going to lose a good, proper school environment. They’re being shifted around without any consideration. I don’t think the DOE takes them seriously.”

“The whole thing is just ridiculous,” said Robin Klueber, president of the Parent Teacher Association for Frank McCourt High School, one of the complex’s other high schools. The four high schools share resources, she explained, so IDP’s extracurricular activities would by necessity be affected. Students from the different schools interact and contribute to the same programs, such as sports teams and clubs. A group involved in an inter-school theater production set to premiere this week, she said, was dismayed that they might not be together after this year.

“The after-school programs are just fabulous,” Klueber added. “We share a community with Innovation.”

Numerous elected officials also have added their voices to the protests. “On its face, it appears that the DOE’s primary impetus for moving Innovation is to accommodate the elementary charter school that co-located in the building against strenuous community opposition,” Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal said. “That opposition was rooted in the fear that the charter school would eventually squeeze out the existing high school students in a quest for more space. Transfer schools such as Innovation Diploma Plus provide motivated students with a last-chance opportunity to receive a high school diploma. Innovation students, having found stability at Brandeis on the Upper West Side, are now having the rug pulled out from under them by the DOE.”

With the loss of access to Brandeis’ science, arts, sports and theater programs, Council Member Gale Brewer contended that “the health of [IDP’s] students in the broader sense will decline.” She added that parents of students at IDP had approached her and were “adamantly opposed” to the move.
IDP Principal Casey Jones did not respond to a request for comments. Some opponents to the move claim Jones’ support, but he has made no public statements against the proposal.

In light of the strong opposition, West Side Spirit asked DOE spokesperson Feinberg to address some of the specific complaints that the community surrounding IDP was raising. In addition to a loss of sports and arts resources, for instance, opponents have also voiced concerns that IDP students will lose access to a program called Lyfe, which provides day care for children so that their young parents can gain enough credits to graduate. Feinberg declined, and stated that all the move’s benefits were explained in the impact statement, which can be read online at schools.nyc.gov.

Opponents note that the proposed Washington Heights location Street is 90 years old, with 10 full-size classrooms and currently none of the amenities that Brandeis shares, such as a gymnasium, science lab, auditorium and black box theater. According to the impact statement, DOE intends to invest $1.5 to 3 million to bring the building up to code for physical education and science.
CEC 3 Councilmember Laurie Frey contended that regardless of facilities, the move would still be “socially isolating” for IDP students. “The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee us quality of success, but quality of access,” she said. “What gets you coming to school? The sports, the arts, your friends—those are the little pieces that get you up in the morning.” She argued that at-risk students like those at IDP need all the incentives they can get. To remove their support network, she suggested, is to cast them out from New York’s education system.

“There’s no apparent reason to move IDP unless you have a civil collusion between DOE and Success Academy,” she said. “There’s a real appearance of cronyism.”

Following last week’s hearing, DOE said that it is reviewing the community’s comments. The department will continue to accept oral and written opinions through Dec. 19, and then DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposal on Dec. 20.

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