BY SAM SPOKONY | The previously planned charter school co-location at Murry Bergtraum High School will no longer go forward, the city’s Department of Education announced last week.
Last year, D.O.E. under former Mayor Bloomberg had proposed to place a Success Academy charter school, serving grades K to 4, in part of the Murry Bergtraum building, a District 2 school at 411 Pearl St.
But that move was heavily criticized and protested by many Downtown parents, education advocates and elected officials.
The Feb. 27 announcement showed a clear shift — by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new education officials — away from the charter school-friendly policies of Bloomberg’s D.O.E. under ex-Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“If there is one thing school communities should know, it’s this: We’re going to do things differently,” said new D.O.E. Chancellor Carmen Fariña, in a statement released with last Thursday’s announcement. Today, we are turning the page on the approach of the past. We are going to listen and be responsive like never before, and that will be reflected in everything we do.”
The reversal of the Murry Bergtraum co-location plan was one of nine such reversals throughout the city, and one of three blows dealt to Success Academy that day. D.O.E. also blocked the charter’s proposed move into a Jamaica, Queens, high school, plus removed a Success Academy school from a Harlem location — which also serves two other schools — where it had been co-located since 2008.
Success Academy, which is run by former City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, immediately shot back after the announcement, with harsh words for de Blasio.
“With so few good school options in many of the city’s neighborhoods, it’s shocking that Mayor de Blasio would limit families’ access to high-performing schools,” said Success spokesperson Ann Powell. “Instead of the progressive politics he ran on, the mayor is waging a campaign of personal politics that hurts the very communities he vowed to protect.”
As part of Thursday’s announcement, D.O.E. also said it is shutting down a previous proposal to co-locate a new public high school at University Neighborhood High School, a District 1 school at 200 Monroe St.
That co-location plan had also faced heavy opposition, as supporters of U.N.H.S. said there was no way its building could successfully house two schools due to severe lack of space and resources.
D.O.E.’s announcement was enthusiastically applauded by Downtown education advocates.
“I am pleased that the Department of Education heard the voices of the parents, students and educators who understand firsthand the educational needs of our community,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin in a statement released last Thursday night.
Chin had written letters to D.O.E. and joined parents in rallies against both Downtown co-location proposals.
“This is a major victory for U.N.H.S. and M.B.H.S., and I thank Chancellor Fariña and Mayor de Blasio for putting our children first,” she said.
Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council, said she was “pleased that the new administration heard the real concerns raised by District 1 parents, students, staff and community members about the negative impact the proposed co-location would have had on [U.N.H.S.].”
Shino Tanikawa, president of the District 2 Community Education Council, said she was “delighted by the decision that responds to the needs of the community, and I am deeply grateful to the chancellor for listening to the parents.”
However, D.O.E. said on Thursday that it still plans to propose two co-locations at the Murry Bergtraum campus, including both the public high school that had previously been planned for the U.N.H.S. building, and another public high school that had previously been planned for co-location in Long Island City.
In a memo detailing the plans, D.O.E. spokesperson Devon Puglia called those new proposals “better building matches” for the schools.
In fact, despite the city’s axing a number co-locations, over all, the de Blasio administration is still moving forward with about 36 other previously planned school co-locations — about 10 of which are charter schools.
In addition, Governor Cuomo is now pledging to ensure that the city’s charter schools have adequate space and funding to thrive.