Charter school in Queens says they’re ‘left in limbo’ on middle school promise

Parents, students and Success Academy Charter School leaders call of a new middle school location in South Jamaica on Oct. 21, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Success Academy Charter Schools).

Parents and leaders of Success Academy Charter School in Queens are demanding the city find a new middle school for Queens students now — and they’re ready to take their case to City Hall again.

Members of the Success Academy community in Jamaica say they feel as if they have been “left in limbo” when it comes to their children’s futures. The DOE’s deadline to apply for middle school and high schools is Dec. 6, and Success Academy parents still don’t know if they need to fill it out or not.  

“It baffles me,” said Roberta Doyle, mother of a 6th grader at Success Academy’s current middle school co-location at I.S. 59. ” What could be more beneficial to a mayor than to have hundreds and hundreds of kids on a trajectory to top tier colleges?”

Parents say they are adamant about keeping their children in the Success Academy system because of the school’s methodology.

On last year’s state exams, 99 percent of Success Academy passed Math and 90 percent passed English. Doyle worries though that her daughter will be cheated out of full education. If a new middle school isn’t found soon, 227 Success Academy students would be forced to leave and further overcrowd district schools. Queens is the most overpopulated schools in the city, according to the DOE. 

The DOE suggested a replacement, the former home of Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in Ozone Park, where middle school students could start taking classes starting in the 2020-2021 school year. But after touring the location, Success Academy rejected the site as too small and dilapidated to appropriately accommodate students. 

According to Success Academy, the site needed new interior lighting and water damage repairs potentially costing millions of dollars. Even if those repairs are done, the school would only have enough space for 330 students. 

“Equity and excellence for all’ means all — all public school children, district and charter,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy.

In the request for a new middle school in 2017, was for 575 to 625 students. And the need for more space will only increase, as Success Academy projects that over the next four years the number of Success Academy elementary school students in need of a middle school will jump to 1,000. 

“It seems the mayor has decided that just because I am a mother who decided to send her children to a charter school, I do not deserve to know where my child will go to school,” said Sandrian Campbell, parent of two Queens Success Academy students. “My children are public school students and they have the same rights as district students.” 

According to state law, the city is required to provide free space for charters school is public school buildings or help pay for rent in private buildings. 

The charter school argues that there is plenty of underutilized space in Queens schools to relocate the roughly 600 students including; Catherine & Count Basie Middle School in Jamaica, Mathematics Science Research and Technology Magnet High School in Cambria Heights, Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park and the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety in Jamaica. 

But the DOE stands by their recommendation and contests the charter schools claim that there are enough empty seats at those schools. In 2018, the city announced a $17 billion plan to ease school overcrowding over the next five years. The plan came two years after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to create an additional 83,000 school seats across the city although some argue that need is now higher. 

A DOE analysis shows that although the enrollment in Success Academy in Queens is increasing, in other boroughs the attrition between fourth and fifth grades has risen to double digits. Across grades K-8, the DOE found that the Success Academy currently had 2,900 extra seats due to under-enrollment and 1,900 empty seats due to excess space allocation. 

“We’re confident that all Success Academy families who wish to continue at a Success middle school in Queens will be able to do so in the fall,” said DOE spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon. “We have been in regular contact with Success Academy, have identified a suitable space, and are in active conversations to discuss next steps.”

Parents and Success Academy representatives plan to further push the city for a replacement school during a rally on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 11 to 12 p.m. 

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