Volume 79, Number 25 | November 25 - December 1, 2009
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Villager photo by Clayton Patterson

Students and parents from P.S. 20 and Shuang Wen School protested outside the District 1 C.E.C. meeting last week.

Charter’s growth could put squeeze on two schools

By Albert Amateau

Lower East Side parents packed a District 1 Community Education Council meeting last week to tell Department of Education officials that they oppose plans that would force students from several district schools to share space in order to enable a charter school to expand.

Girls Preparatory Charter school, with grades kindergarten through fifth, wants to expand to include middle-school grades 6 through 8. The Department of Education has proposed three alternative plans to rearrange several district schools to make room for the charter school — now in the P.S. 188 building on E. Houston St. near the F.D.R. Drive — to grow.

But parents at Shuang Wen, a district bilingual English-Mandarin school with grades K to 8, at 327 Cherry St. near Montgomery St., and parents at P.S. 20, the Anna Silver School, on Essex St. near E. Houston St., don’t like the idea of sharing space with other district schools to accommodate the charter school expansion.

At a rally outside P.S. 20 just before the Nov. 18 District 1 C.E.C. meeting, parents of the two schools said the three scenarios would take resource rooms away from them and district schools, in general.

Ann Luparei, mother of a sixth-grade student at Shuang Wen and a high school student who graduated from Shuang Wen two years ago, said the plan would hurt the school.

“Our school has science, music and art space and a dance studio, which is not very large,” she said. “It has to serve as an exercise room, too, because we don’t have a gym. Our kids use these rooms every day.”

A recent survey by parents and education officials of the Shuang Wen School determined there was only one available classroom, instead of the nine cited by D.O.E. in a memo on the proposal, Luparei said.

“We believe D.O.E. wants to expand charter schools at the expense of successful district schools,” said Trinh Eng, mother of two Shuang Wen students.

But Monica Harris, P.S. 20 Parent Teacher Association president, said, “We’re not against charter schools, but against taking our resources. Charter schools were started in places where district schools were failing. We have some very successful district schools here.”

Troy Robinson, a Shuang Wen parent, said the Department of Education’s assessments of space in District 1 did not consider that district schools like Shuang Wen also anticipate expansion.

“We oppose the D.O.E. plan because their math is wrong,” he said. “We’re going to have ask D.O.E. for more space ourselves.”

Parents at the meeting charged that D.O.E. was pitting parents of different schools against each other.

Girls Prep was originally located in the P.S. 15 building at 333 E. Fourth St. between Avenues C and D. It was first proposed as a K-to-4 school, but started as a K-to-5 school, adding its inaugural fifth-grade class this year. At the present location on E. Houston St., Girls Prep has 263 girls, of which only 43 percent are from District 1, according to Lisa Dolan, president of the district Community Education Council.

Some parents at the meeting contended that the D.O.E. alternative plans for Girls Prep take resources away from mostly low-income immigrant students. They characterized the loss of resources as a violation of their civil rights.

But Miriam Lewis Raccah, founder and executive director of Girls Prep, said she understood Shuang Wen and P.S. 20 parents’ concern because her school is also squeezed for space. She said Girls Prep has been successful in small, shared spaces and that other schools could also be successful.

The first of the three alternative plans submitted by D.O.E. calls for moving a large Special Education program that shares the E. Houston St. building with Girls Prep to new space in District 2 and opening a new smaller Special Education program to share space with Shuang Wen, at P.S. 184, on Cherry St. The change would mean four or five rooms lost to Shuang Wen and used for Special Ed. The change would also gain nine rooms at the E. Houston St. location and would allow Girls Prep to grow to the eighth grade. The same alternative calls for the District 1 office to move out of it current location at 220 Henry St. — where the Henry St. School for International Studies, a new high school, is located — and relocate to P.S. 20 on Essex St., a more central location.

The first alternative notes that new construction for Special Education will be completed in District 2 next year. P.S. 276, under construction in Battery Park City and scheduled to open in September, is also a likely place for the Special Ed programs.

The second alternative calls for moving the School for Global Leaders, for high-need Special Education students, out of the building at 145 Stanton St. that it shares with Marta Valle High School, and moving Girls Prep from E. Houston St. to the Stanton St. building, giving the charter school room to expand. Global Leaders would move to the Essex St. building to share space with P.S. 20. The district office would remain on Henry St, or move to the E. Houston St. building. This second alternative would involve the costs of moving two schools.

The third alternative calls for Girls Prep’s middle school to move to 12 rooms in the P.S. 20 building on Essex St., with the charter’s elementary grades remaining at E. Houston St. The district office could remain on Henry St. or move to either E. Houston St. or the Shuang Wen building. A Special Education program located in the Houston St. building could expand, according to the D.O.E. memo on the three alternatives: “Space would be tight and would require enrollment adjustments,” the memo says.

D.O.E. will accept comments on the alternatives until Dec. 10. The comments will be used to develop a proposal to be issued as an educational impact statement by the end of December or early January. A public hearing at the affected school will follow. After a period for more public comment, the Panel on Education Policy will vote on the issue at a February meeting.

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