2012-06-01 / Top Stories

PPA Gets Three-Month Reprieve

By Howard Schwach

PPA parents protest at Tweed Court house in Manhattan, the headquarters for the DOE., after the decision to close the school wsa made. PPA parents protest at Tweed Court house in Manhattan, the headquarters for the DOE., after the decision to close the school wsa made. A Rockaway charter school that has been earmarked for closure by the city’s Department of Education has won a reprieve, perhaps up to three months, as the result of a decision by a Queens Supreme Court judge last week.

Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwin ruled on May 24 that the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, located in the former Stella Maris High School building, will remain open until she comes to a decision on its fate, a ruling that the judge said would come sometime in late July or early August.

In January, the DOE voted not to renew the school’s charter, but the board of directors vowed to fight, utilizing public money to retain an attorney and file suit against both the DOE and the city.

At the time, school officials defended using public money to bring suit against the city under the theory that “We have the right to defend ourselves.”

DOE officials said that there is nothing illegal about using public funds to file a lawsuit under the circumstances.

“At the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, we are not going to renew their charter based on the standards [that it failed to meet], and they will close at the end of the 2011-2012 school year,” DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas told The Wave in January. “They have failed to meet five of the nine student performance goals they have laid out in their charter, and this year they received their fourth consecutive C on their progress report. Beyond this, their board and staff leadership has failed to gather performance data effectively and use it to build a strong school culture, and have not demonstrated to us that they are capable of providing the oversight needed to run a high quality school.”

According to the DOE’s Charter School Renewal Report, only 46.2 percent of PPA students were proficient in the English Language Arts test, in contrast with 54.7 percent in the rest of District 27.

In addition, the report says, “PPA has failed to demonstrate its ability to establish a system to gather assessment and evaluation data and to use that data to improve instructional effectiveness and student learning outcomes.”

In November, when the DOE first announced that it was looking closely at two Rockaway schools, PS 215 in Wavecrest and the PPA, local attorney Betty Leon, who is the chairperson of PPA’s Board of Directors, told The Wave that the entire process is “unfair.”

“This is very frustrating,” she said. “They come to the school and look at classrooms without knowing anything about what should be going on in those classrooms.”

And, Leon does not think that earning C’s on a school report card indicates a problem that requires closing the school.

Opened in 2004, Peninsula Preparatory Charter School was founded by State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, who served as a board member until

2006. Another Queens politician, Representative Gregory Meeks, was also a member of the elementary school’s board.

Despite its political connections, and the fact that tens of thousands of public dollars were pumped into the building, Peninsula Prep struggled from the outset. Originally located in a Far Rockaway middle school, it moved into a complex of trailers near a large real estate development owned by one of Smith’s campaign donors, leaving its students without a gym or playground. For the last three years, it has received C’s on its progress reports from the city.

Ericka Wala, Peninsula’s principal since July of 2009, said the school had been improving, albeit slowly.

“I was hoping we would be given an opportunity to continue the movement that I believe is in a positive direction, and unfortunately the decision was otherwise,” she said.

This week, Wala said, “The majority of our scholars come from areas in the Rockaways and they are disenfranchised, segregated, isolated and illserved. Many of the local public schools struggle through these conditions, which perpetuate an overall lower academic performance for the Rockaways.”

Parent Teacher Association Co- President Lisa George told Clare Trapasso of the Daily News that hers is “a great school.”

“We don’t have to worry about a lot of things that the surrounding schools go through,” she said. “There’s no gangs, there’s no violence. One of the major things bothering the parents is that the schools that our parents are being referred to have not outscored or beaten PPA.”

Josmar Trujillo, the school’s other copresident, said, “I am very satisfied [with the court’s decision]. The Queens Supreme Court has seen fit to allow our fate to be determined by the merits of the argument, the goals of public education, and the accomplishments of our children; not he political agendas of a few powerful men.”

The attorney representing 99 parents at the school said that the school can now apply for the money it needs for the next school year, especially to keep its staff in place.

The city must write a check on July 1 to cover the school’s operating budget, DOE officials say.

It was not clear at press time what percentage of those operating expenses would go to paying the attorney and funding the lawsuit.

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