Cavallaro to Coney Island Prep: “Build your own school”

Cries of “Go home!” “Build your own school!” and “No co-location!” were heard loud and clear as parents, teachers and students at I.S. 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro Junior High School packed a public hearing regarding the proposed co-location of Coney Island Prep (CIP) into their building on Monday, October 21.

Facilitated by the Department of Education, which is handling the application, District 21 and District 20’s Community Education Councils held a joint public hearing about the co-location of Coney Island Prep at Cavallaro, on 24th Avenue in Bensonhurst.

According to the proposal, CIP would co-locate grades kindergarten through 12 beginning in the 2014 school year, adding 55 to 70 kindergarteners each year until it reaches full size in 2017.

Hundreds of teachers, parents and students came to protest the co-location, contending that it would take away much needed space and resources from Cavallaro students.

“I feel that it shouldn’t be here. We need more space,” said seventh grader Miguel Cayamba. “They should get their own space.”

His classmate Muhammad Zafar agreed. “I feel bad because we need more room and teachers can’t handle it,” he said, adding that he writes for the school’s newspaper which would lose its fourth floor offices if the co-location is approved.

“They will take our gym and our library, the things we love most,” he said.

Heather Fiorica, president of CEC 21, testified. “We have spent years creating an award-winning newspaper,” she said, adding that students did not have access to the computers and files when P.S. 188 temporary co-located during Sandy. “How will rescheduling affect our children? Will the children in the charter school be eating organic meals in their classrooms? They should be treated equally.”

According to the DOE, Cavallaro’s building is 81 percent utilized and if the proposal is approved the school will remain below 100 percent utilization in the 2014-2015 school year.

But Fiorica said that the DOE “fails to account for future growth capacity. Eighty-one percent seems too high. Let’s not use our schools and students to predict stats. Why can’t CIP co-locate in their own building?”

CEC 20 President Laurie Windsor also testified, noting that Cavallaro is a feeder school for her district and that 58 percent of students are from District 20.

“We have a vested interest in Cavallaro. Where are these kids going to go to junior high?” she said.

Jason Mnookin, executive director of CIP, was at the hearing with a handful of parents. He said that his school receives three applications for every seat available.

“Dozens of parents have asked us to expand. The middle school shares a space with I.S. 303 [and Rachel Carson High School] and that co-location was a very contentious proposal, as well. Now we have a truly wonderful relationship and partnership,” Mnookin said. “I know this proposal is contentious, but I know at the core we all want the same thing…the best for our children.”

Councilmember Domenic Recchia blasted the testimony.

“CIP parents shouldn’t be yelling at us or at the DOE. They should be yelling at this guy,” he said referring to Mnookin’s decision to drop the ball on a permanent building to house the charter school last year.

“If I was sending my child to CIP, I would be mad as hell. We shouldn’t be here tonight fighting like this and it’s all because of what you and your board decided to do,” Recchia said. “If you want to find a home, there’s a building down on West Eighth Street with the second floor available.”

Councilmember Vincent Gentile voiced concerns of having high school students share space with an elementary school.

“You will have students five to nine year olds, walking around with students that are 11 years old,” he said. “To me, that’s not safe. Just because you can fit a charter school into I.S. 281 doesn’t mean you should.”

Other elected officials that testified against the co-location included Assemblymember William Colton – who noted that CIP also has space at St. Simon and Jude on Avenue T — and State Senator Diane Savino, as well as Mark Treyger, who is poised to be the next councilmember of the 47th District.

The Panel for Education Policy will vote on this co-location on October 30 at Prospect Heights High School located at 883 Classon Avenue at 6 p.m.

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