Morrisania parents try to keep a charter school out

Parents of students at four Morrisania public schools have filed suit against the city to block a new charter school from co-locating in their building.

Success Academy Bronx 3 children at the K-2 building at 968 Cauldwell Avenue. They hope to attend third grade at 1000 Teller Avenue this year.
K-2 students Success Academy Bronx 3 at 968 Cauldwell Ave.

Success Academy looks to expand; some local families say ‘no way’

Parents of students at four Morrisania public schools have filed a lawsuit against the city to block a new charter school from co-locating in their building. They argue that 1000 Teller Ave. is already crowded enough and that the presence of a new, resource-rich school could demoralize students of the cash-strapped public schools.

Advocates for Justice, the nonprofit group representing them, says angry parents will keep their children from attending the first day of the upcoming semester, Aug. 17, if Success Academy Bronx 3 moves in as expected. The building is home to Arturo Toscanini Junior High School 145, New Millennium Business Academy, and Urban Science Academy and an Alternative Learning Center.

Across the city, parents have clashed with the Department of Education in recent years, arguing that the shoehorning students into cramped school buildings takes a toll on student performance. In a study, Class Size Matters, an educational advocacy group, found that crowded classrooms lead to higher dropout rates, lower grades and poor results on college-entrance exams.

“All of the classrooms in the building are already being used,” said Laura D. Barbieri, an attorney for Advocates for Justice.

Although the DOE has classified the building as “underutilized,” saying it is at half of its capacity, Barbieri countered that Blue Book, the system the city uses to calculate numbers of students, is inaccurate.

“You can’t use a system that you’ve already determined is wrong,” she said. Until last year, for example, Blue Book did not count thousands of students housed in temporary trailers as part of each elementary and middle school’s enrollment, she said.

But Success Academy is primed to follow through, despite the controversy.

“We’re set to move our kids in,” said Pat Wechsler, Success Academy’s managing director of communications.

A spokesman for the education dept. said Mayor de Blasio is aware of criticisms of the Blue Book system, and has convened a working group that will make recommendations to improve it. He added that the department will work to help students from the four existing schools and the new charter school alike.

“We will continue to provide strong support to all students in that location,” said the spokesman, Jason Fink.

Advocates for Justice previously tried to block Success Academy’s k-2 school from co-locating to Cauldwell Ave. in Melrose, by appealing to the state’s education commissioner, but that appeal was dismissed. Now the organization has upped the ante by suing the city in federal court. At a recent public hearing, two education dept. appointees voted against co-location in the Teller Ave. building, but they were outvoted.

“We just want what the mayor promised,” said Barbieri, adding that then-cadidate de Blasio vowed to add resources for poorly performing schools while on the campaign trail last year.  During the campaign, he pronounced that Success Academy’s founder and CEO Eva S. Moskowitz “has to stop being tolerated, enabled, and supported.”

Last year, the mayor blocked two Success Academy schools from co-locating to public school buildings.

But about two-dozen parents of Success Academy Bronx 3 students are fighting back against the lawsuit, demanding to have a say in the fate of the 92 incoming third graders. They worry that if the new charter school is prevented from moving in, their children will be forced to attend weaker schools.

One parent, Isis Murray-Carillo, said she feared her son could end up in a local public school like “a prison, with children sitting in the dark watching a video all day.” Another, Emily Carrasquillo, said her daughter, DJ, is comfortable with the teachers she studied under and got to know on Cauldwell Ave., and being unable to continue with them would be a blow.

Success Academy is the largest of the city’s charter school networks, with about 35 schools, and plans to expand to 100 schools within a year. Moskowitz’s annual salary of $567,500 is about 2 1/2 times more than the city’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, who earns $212,614 to oversee about 1,800 schools.

Success Academy students rank among the top one percent in math among all schools in the state, and the top three percent in English. In contrast, only one percent of students who attend Arturo Toscanini Junior HS met state standards on their math exams and just six percent of Urban Science Academy students did so on their English exams. Only one in four teachers at New Millenium Business Academy said they would recommend that school to parents, according to the DOE. There are many special needs and English language learning students enrolled in the four schools, and the alternate learning center is devoted entirely to suspended students.

Moskowitz boasts that those kinds of numbers show that the charter schools she oversees are a viable solution to the city’s public education system problems. But for every 21 applications Success Academy receives, only one applicant gets in.

No matter how much parents in the four Teller Ave. public schools yearn to enroll their children in schools with more extensive resources, said Barbieri, they can’t, which leaves the public schoolers feeling demoralized. To avoid that imbalance, she said, the incoming children should be absorbed by existing Success Academy locations elsewhere instead of being wedged in with her students.

Wechsler disagreed.

“This is the location the Department of Education gave us,” she said. “It’s our only option.” 

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3 thoughts on “Morrisania parents try to keep a charter school out

  1. I really don’t get the inequities between Success Academy and the non charter schools. Why is the City so intent on forcing public school locations to “host” these schools? Our tax money is already supporting them. They operate as private schools in that they “select” the students. The staffs at the charters have more resources and the pay is more as I understand it.

    1. I can only speak for what I know as a Success Academy parent, but yes, the teachers are paid slightly higher than DOE teachers, but they also work longer hours and have less time off (they work during the summer on professional development and curriculum). As for tax payer money, charters get about 75 cents on the dollar to traditional schools. The rest is made thru fundraising – which traditional zoned schools can do as well – many do. Charter schools are public schools and they do not “select” their students. They have a lottery in which any parent can apply for their children. Each charter has a different set of rules where a child may be chosen over another – siblings for instance get a seat first, children attending failing schools in the charters district do as well. SA used to have an ELL preference, but Arne Duncan (head of the federal board of education) threatened to pull any federal money from schools doing this because it was considered discrimination against english speakers, so that preference had to change. SA takes kids up thru 4th grade and the average class size is larger than their traditional counterpart (my daughters first grade class had 31 students last year with a lead and an associate teacher). Our special needs students are completely main streamed and are not labeled as such, so the numbers for special needs students is skewed. My son has aspergers and graduated from his IEP just before the last school year, so he is no longer considered to be special ed, yet his aspergers will never go away – they just helped him to cope with his issues and quirks to be successful in the learning environment. SA is an amazing school, not perfect for every child and family – but what school is? Charters are public schools and every parent has a right to choose which school their child attends. The schools here in the South Bronx, and the Bronx in general, have been neglected for decades and it isn’t fair to our children. I understand why the parents are suing and I do agree that the formula used for occupancy levels is skewed and needs to be revamped, but I feel that the students at Bronx 3 deserve a home just as any other child in this city does to learn. If you look at the test scores for many of the schools co-located with other charters, you will see that their test scores tend to rise because they will take some of the practices they see and it can bring a healthy competition of sorts. The majority of schools in NYC are co-located, and the majority of those aren’t even charter and zoned schools – they’re zoned with zoned. The UFT runs charters in Brooklyn (which have consistently received failing grades from the state) and those are co-located as well, yet no one bats an eye. There is a real double standard and a great deal of myths surrounding charters – especially Success Academies – and sadly it is up to parents to talk to other parents in order to understand what the real ins and outs are. Is SA the perfect school? No, it’s not. But sending my children there was the best decision my husband and I ever made when it comes to our kids’ education. I would love to see the DOE schools take some of the better practices of successful charters and implement them for the 1.1 million zoned school students in this city – but pride and failure to admit that there have been errors in the system for years is preventing that. The Archdiocese of NY has started to do it and they’re seeing great improvements in their schools…. how long will it take for the DOE to do the same? We need to stop pitting parents against parents, and we need to start banding together to help bring a better change for ALL of the kids in this city!

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