2012-08-17 / Top Stories

PPA To Open ‘Pending Litigation’

New Far Rockaway Site For Troubled School
By Howard Schwach

A troubled charter school that was ordered closed by the Department of Education and that used public funds to sue the city will open its doors at a new site in September, at least until its suit against the DOE and the city is settled sometime before the end of the year, a department source said this week.

“Peninsula Preparatory Academy will open in September, pending its litigation,” said department spokesperson David Pena.

In January, the DOE voted not to renew the school’s charter, but the school’s 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 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.”

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.”

Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwin ruled on May 24 that the school, then located in the former Stella Maris High School building, could 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.

That decision has now been put off until sometime in September, court sources say.

And, in the interim, PPA lost its lease with the Sisters of St. Joseph, the owners of the Stella Maris property.

Officials at PPA say that the school will be moving back to Far Rockaway, leasing the building at 710 Hartman Lane, a facility that once was owned by the Hartman YM-YWHA and then was utilized as a church school.

The school started in Far Rockaway, at IS 53 on Nameoke Street before a series of moves that brought it to the former Stella Maris High School site when that school closed its doors for good two years ago.

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.

Sources say that the school lost its lease when the city decided to close PPA and the owners found another longterm tenant, the St. Martin DePorres School.

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.

Walla has reportedly filed an application to get a charter school of her own, The Bright Futures Academy Charter School, slated for Rosedale.

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