Success charter school applies to open at Bergtraum

Murry Bergtraum High School. Downtown Express file photo by Yoon Seo Nam
Murry Bergtraum High School. Downtown Express file photo by Yoon Seo Nam

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEPT. 6, 2013  |  By KAITLYN MEADE | Success Academy is going forward with plans to try and open a 450-to-600-seat elementary charter elementary school inside Murry Bergtraum High School.

The Dept. of Education recently released the Educational Impact Statement that lays out the plan to co-locate both the elementary charter and another high school at 411 Pearl St.

The proposed charter, first reported by the Downtown Express last month, would open fall 2014 with 150 to 210 students in kindergarten and first grade, then build one grade at a time until it reaches its full capacity with up to 600 students in K-4 in September 2017.

Councilmember Margaret Chin, reiterated her opposition to the idea in a public statement saying it “raises serious concerns regarding the appropriateness and feasibility of a plan that could have major impacts on students’ academic performance and overall progress in both Murry Bergtraum High School and Success Charter Academy.”

Chin has said that she will continue pushing for another solution, which may be more feasible under a different administration.

District 2’s Community Education Council President Shino Tanikawa has said that she would like to see a ban on opening any new charter schools in the district for a few years “until we can figure out how to work with them.”

Despite concerns, Success spokesperson Kerri Lyon said that the big kid-little kid worry was a “non-issue” as parents overwhelmingly have demonstrated a desire for school seats, even those co-located with public high schools.

For this coming year, Lyon said that 2,560 families applied for about 150 school seats in the elementary charter school located in the Brandeis High School building on the Upper West Side, and over 1,700 applied for about 100 seats in a similarly co-located Cobble Hill school.

The academy, which began in Harlem, is planning to open six new schools in the coming year.

Critics, including the United Federation of Teachers, have said that they push out low-performing and special ed students from the schools, but Success has said its charters’ attrition rates are lower than those of traditional schools, especially among special needs students.

“Success Academy is hopeful we can meet some of the overwhelming demand from local families for more high quality schools in their neighborhoods,” she said.

The D.O.E. seems to agree and has said that the move will open much-needed elementary school seats in District 2, whose students will get first priority in applications.

“We’ve delivered historic gains across the city over the last decade, and each and every day we’re working to expand high quality options for families,” Devon Puglia, a D.O.E. spokesperson for the D.O.E., wrote in an email. “Parents clamor for more great schools for their kids – and we’re delivering them. As one of the highest performing networks in the city, we’re confident a new school will serve this community well.”

Co-location will be possible because of the D.O.E.’s plan to reduce enrollment in Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers by about 450 students by 2018 The reduction from about 1,500 will take place whether or not the co-locations go forward, the statement said, as it is aimed at helping to improve the school’s current overall score of D, which has been a constant since 2009.

There will also be changes to the Stephen T. Mather School, which opened in Murry’s building this year, in cooperation with the Parks Department. In 2014, it will switch places with the newly opened Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management on West 49th St., because there is no room in Bergtraum’s building for the specialized lab that the Mather School requires.

The Bergtraum site is estimated to rocket to a utilization rate of 97 to 101 percent in 2018-19, once both the Urban Assembly and Success Academy schools have grown to capacity.