At a public hearing Tuesday on the possible co-location of a new charter school in Bushwick, longtime art teacher Robert Aviles of IS 347 School of Humanities said he and his colleagues are used to making adjustments.
“We have to do more with less,” said Aviles. “And still we put our heart and soul into this.”
He spoke at the first of two meetings in School District 32 last week on new building accommodations for charters starting in the 2014 school year
The city Department of Education (DOE) and the district’s Community Education Council held the events to get community input on proposed new elementary schools PAVE II and Achievement First North Brooklyn Preparatory.
PAVE II, which is still seeking state approval for its charter, wants to put a K-5 school in the building currently occupied by two middle schools, IS 347 and IS 349, on Starr Street.
Achievement First, which aims to be a K-4 school, already has a charter approved. The new school, Achievement First North Brooklyn Preparatory, wants to share a site with PS/IS 377 on Woodbine Street. Both charters would start with a kindergarten and first grade next year and add grades in future years.
The teachers and parents of the existing public schools who attended the community meetings raised concerns about their school’s safety and quality.
But neither of the meetings was well attended. The Tuesday event at the building currently shared by IS 347 and IS 349 was notably empty; presenters discussed the plan to move in PAVE II elementary to an audience comprised mostly of DOE employees. District Superintendent Lillian Druck said that school staffs and parents knew about the meeting through school announcements and that the majority of them are not against PAVE.
“For the most part, they say it’s another positive option for their children,” said Druck. “So I haven’t heard about any strong opposition.”
At the second meeting, held Thursday night, Victorina Lugo, the president of the local school council, invited the assembled group of a dozen or so parents from PS/IS 377 to attend more meetings to make sure their concerns are addressed as Achievement First moves into their school building, which is listed at half capacity by the DOE.
“Please share with your staff and share with your community what’s coming down the pipeline for co-locations in public schools,” Lugo said.
Argument over safety
Several teachers at the schools did dissent. They expressed reservations about whether the facilities would be used equitably, and a trio of educators from IS 347 questioned the wisdom of pairing kindergartners and first graders from PAVE II elementary with two existing middle schools.
“We have one entrance,” said Aviles about the building, which is listed as 61 percent full by the city. “I’m trying to envision how all these kids are going to move around. There’s a lot of questions that haven’t been addressed.”
Figures from the NYPD show that teachers at IS 347 and IS 349 have had their share of disciplinary problems. The 2010-11 school year saw one crime in the building listed as “major,” eight other crimes and 11 non-criminal incidents, with the two latter figures representing nearly twice the average city rate for a school with 1,021 students.
Devon Puglia, a press representative with the DOE, said in an email statement that the arrangement would not pose a safety risk to the younger children.
Concerns about inequities
The parents at PS/IS 377, where kindergartners already attend school on the same campus as eighth graders, had a different worry: that the Achievement First co-location will inhibit learning at the school where 82 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
City evaluators gave the school an F on its 2010-11 progress report. Martin Murphy, whose young son will become his third child to attend the school when he starts kindergarten next fall, nonetheless credits it for providing a quality education.
“Don’t look at the cosmetics of it,” said Murphy. “It’s what’s behind the desk—the educators—that’s what really matters.”
Murphy said he’s worried kids at the current school will notice disparities between the education they receive and what children in the new school get.
“Our children notice the difference,” said Murphy. “We’re already in a community suffering from self-esteem issues.”
He mentioned that the school already had difficulties finding enough space for all the kids to have gym class each day with an enrollment of 592. The DOE building plan distributed at the meeting calls for PS/IS 377’s size to shrink into the 400s by 2017 as Achievement First’s full enrollment grows up to the 400s by the same year.
The DOE’s Puglia noted that the city has a responsibility to act when schools do not perform and the building plan calls for space to be shared equally.
Leda Duran, whose twin sons attend an existing co-located Achievement First East New York, came to the meeting to try to allay any concerns about sharing the school with the public charter chain. She said her sons’ school is “partnered” with the other school on site.
“Nothing’s being taken away from anybody to be given to anybody else,” said Duran. “That’s my experience.”
Druck said that the city’s Panel on Educational Policy will take all comments from the meeting into account when it holds votes on Wednesday at Prospect Heights High School on whether to authorize the two co-locations. She also promised the parents future “Q-and-A sessions” with charter school representatives.
IS 347 and IS 349 will have one more public hearing on co-location if the state approves a charter application currently under review from PAVE II, according to Maureen Murphy, the director of charter accountability at SUNY Charter Schools Institute.
In the meantime, Lugo said Bushwick families and teachers should be ready to notice a difference in their schools.
“Many of us are not used to change,” said Lugo. “But sometimes change is good.”