Threat of charter addition ruffles NEST’s feathers


By Jefferson Siegel

Several hundred children and their parents jammed City Hall plaza last Friday to protest a plan by the city to add a charter school inside their Lower East Side school building.

A school for gifted students, the New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math, or NEST+m school, at Columbia and E. Houston Sts., has been told that the Ross Charter School will be moving into its building this fall.

However, on Monday afternoon the Department of Education said no final decision has yet been made on locating the Ross Charter School within the NEST+m building.

Alicia Maxey, a D.O.E. spokesperson, said, “We have not yet made a decision regarding the placement of the Ross Charter, but whatever we decide will be based on what is in the best interests of all of our public school children.”

At last Friday’s rally, at least 300 students and parents filled the steps in front of City Hall holding signs saying “Don’t Crowd Out Nest,” “Give Ross A Rest” and “We Love Our School.” Hundreds more stood outside the gates on Park Row and in City Hall Park, chanting their support.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came to show his solidarity with their cause. His remarks were interrupted several times as the children broke into chants of “No Overcrowding” and “One Building, One School.”

“What we’re really talking about here is, NEST+m is one of the city’s education successes,” Silver told the crowd. He declared the school an important waypoint in producing a qualified work force for the city’s future.

“Science labs are not a luxury,” he said. “They are the way of the future. They are the way these children will be part of the global economy of the 21st century. They need the foundations and the fundamentals of science to succeed, for New York businesses to succeed in that 21st century,” Silver said as the plaza and the park again filled with cheers.

The NEST+m school says D.O.E. notified them that many students already accepted for the new school year would now be turned away because of space limitations caused by the addition of the new school.

NEST+m Principal Celenia Chevere questioned the proposed merger.

“We are three schools in one building, and we are already overcrowded,” she said in a statement. With staggered schedules currently being used to accommodate all the students, Chevere asked, “Students start eating lunch at 9:30 a.m. How on earth could another K-12 fit in here?”

Silver echoed her concerns, stating, “You can’t embed a charter school in a NEST academy. And, you certainly can’t do it without talking to the parents first.”

D.O.E.’s Maxey said, “It is our obligation and our priority to serve as many students as possible in the space we have available.”

Also on Monday, NEST+m parents announced plans to hold a rally at the Ross School in Easthampton on April 17.

The three partners responsible for creating the Ross Charter School and trying to bring it to New York City are D.O.E., New York University and the Ross Institute. The Ross Global Academy Charter School will adopt the education model developed at the Ross School of East Hampton, a private school founded 15 years ago by Courtney Sale Ross and her late husband, Steven J. Ross, former chairman and C.E.O. of Time Warner.

The NEST+m school says it has consistently achieved some of the top test scores in the city. On that basis, last year it was designated a talented and gifted school. The current school, which does not yet offer all grade levels, has an enrollment of 732 students. The school expects to offer all grades next year with an anticipated student body of 1,050 students.