2010-03-12 / Columnists

East End Matters...

New School Should Find A Site, Then Get A Charter
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up when there was one school in a building and you could say,

I go to Cardozo JHS 198” or “I go to Far Rockaway High School” and you knew which school you were talking about. The thing is – I just don’t believe in schools sharing buildings.

That brings us to the latest dispute concerning schools sharing buildings – putting the new Challenge Preparatory Charter School into the Goldie Maple Academy (MS 333) on Beach 56 Street. The new school is definitely something that is needed on the peninsula. Its rigorous standards, according to its website, has students taking 60 minutes a day of both social studies and science; 90 minutes of math classes a day for K-5; and essential English as a second language classes for those who need it. All of this is welcome news for those who have become disillusioned with city schools that teach to the test. But the process of granting a charter and finding the new school a home leaves a bit to be desired.

Challenge Prep was approved for its charter by the state on February 2. During a presentation to the Community Education Council for District 27 at the end of last month, a Challenge Prep board member said that even though they did not have a site, “It’s going to open August 2010.”

That meant that the school had just months to find a home. It’s no wonder that rumors were already circulating. Those rumors were that the Goldie Maple Academy would be the site for Challenge Prep. As a matter of fact, the date for the joint public hearing on the issue was announced at MS 53 during the meeting that featured the charter’s presentation to the community.

Less than a semester has been given to determine what the impact on current students at Goldie Maple will be. The principal for the new charter school, Jerrill Adams, said his students would have gym five days a week. Parents of Goldie Maple students have said their children are struggling to get time in the gym. How would that work? MS 333 parents say theirs is a growing school with a new grade to come in next year. They are expecting 500 new students in the coming years. Challenge Prep, which will be leasing space for the next two years, is expecting 180 students enrolled by the beginning of its second year. How will such a large influx of students be handled? Parents also say that the data the DOE used to determine that Goldie Maple could handle bringing in the charter to its building was old and thus, not reliable.

Andrew Bauman, the president of CEC 27, told parents last month that the DOE’s numbers were found to be wrong and the data was adjusted in another school facing the issue of sharing its building.

“This board will fight for your space for your children,” said Bauman. We will make sure it’s looked at from every direction.”

In addition, Goldie Maple already shares its building with the Goldie Maple Beacon Community Center run by the PAL. According to the PAL website, it is a daily after school program for kindergarten to middle school. While there are no conflicts now, what about when the new charter school comes in, since the school will run on an extended day and not let out until 5 p.m.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the issue on March 23. Despite the opposition of current students’ parents to having another school share their building, as a few parents were saying as they were leaving the hearing last week, it is probably already decided. In fact, Challenge Prep is already advertising for students.

This is not something that is unique to Rockaway. It is all over the city. Because of that and the discord these situations can cause in communities the time has come, as one parent said at the joint hearing last week, for new charters to find a site first and then open. Not the other way around. As a matter of fact, I believe that when the state grants a charter it should not go into effect until a home for the school has been secured.

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