Parent panel opposes charter move into Bergtraum

Downtown Express file photo by Sam Spokony Shino Tanikawa, president of the C.E.C.
Downtown Express file photo by Sam Spokony
Shino Tanikawa, president of the C.E.C.

BY KAITLYN MEADE  |  District 2’s Community Education Council passed a resolution last week opposing the plan to open a charter elementary school in Murry Bergtraum High School.

The C.E.C, composed of parents, voiced strong disapproval of the proposal, which would place Success Academy and another high school at 411 Pearl St. next year.

The council objected on the grounds that while Lower Manhattan is suffering from elementary school overcrowding, parents have expressed a “desire for a zoned neighborhood elementary school with the certainty of admission (i.e., no wait list)” — not another charter school.

A Success Academy parent with children in the Upper West Side branch disagrees, saying that parents should have more options, including charter schools.

“It’s a great school for my girls,” Mike Suchanek, said in a phone interview. “There should be more of these schools. There should be more options for parents to choose the school that’s right for them.”

Suchanek’s twin daughters are in second grade at Success, and have been a part of the school since its opening in the Brandeis high school building three years ago.

It was a story that’s familiar to Downtown parents: they were zoned for P.S. 199, a well-regarded school on the Upper West Side, but were waitlisted, and then told they might have to enroll in a different school with a less than glowing reputation. Suchanek started looking for other options and settled on Success, which was opening its Upper West Side location that year. He has since become an advocate for the model.

“They do a great job of keeping 5-year-olds from being around 18-year-olds,” he noted. “The issue about facilities is a red herring… The truth is, it works.”

The D.O.E. wants to do the same in the Pearl St. building, after it admitted its plan to co-locate a high school there did not work, prompting more backlash from the C.E.C.

The recent opening of the Stephen T. Mather Building Arts & Craftsmanship High School in Bergtraum’s building apparently backfired when it came to light that the building did not have space for the specialized facilities the Mather School needs to function, according to an Educational Impact Statement issued last month by the D.O.E

The city now proposes switching the Mather School with the Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management on the Upper West Side in 2014, which would also leave room for the Success charter.

“Having seen those two proposals, I said, ‘there’s something not quite right here,’” Shino Tanikawa, president of District 2’s Community Ed. Council, said of the high school switch and charter opening. The C.E.C. feels that in light of this, the “Department of Education has released multiple co-location proposals all over the city seemingly in a rush to implement as many co-locations as possible before the end of the current administration…” resulting in space conflicts like the Mather School’s.

“It also touches on the lack of planning on the part of the D.O.E.,” Tanikawa commented.

Dept. of Education officials have so far said little about the charter move to Bergtraum, and officials at the meeting did not respond to the criticisms. Success officials declined to comment for this article.

Tanikawa and her colleagues also cited a lack of communication between the charter and the traditional schools, such as at a Success Academy co-located with the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, which opened at 439 W. 49th St. in September.

“I went to a meeting that was shocking to me,” said C.E.C. member Son Mun.

Mun said she had attended a meeting at the high school in which they had tried to contact the charter school about building security: there was concern that if the charter school’s elementary school students went in through the high school entrance, they would have to go through metal detectors.

“They got no answers — nothing. Right before school was about to open,” said Mun.

Mun had gotten her information from Mary Conway-Spiegel, founder of the Partnership for Student Advocacy, who had been mediating the disputes. Conway-Spiegel, in a phone interview, said initially there were problems, but now that school is in session it “hasn’t been an issue at all.”

“Success Academy runs on its own,” she said. “They’re on the second floor, so the second floor is pretty much isolated from the rest of the campus.”

Conway-Spiegel says that while Success does not attend her organization’s campus meetings, which began about one year ago, they worked hard to make sure that the opening of the school was smooth and there were no major problems in the first few weeks.

A public hearing on opening the Success school at Bergtraum will be held at the high school, 411 Pearl St., Oct. 9 at 6 p.m.