School District 21 says no to charter schools

“Hey hey, ho ho, charter schools have got to go!”

Teachers, parents, and involved community members of School District 21 are not staying seated on the matter of more charter schools possibly coming into the neighborhood.

Calling it an “invasion,” Community Education Council District 21 (CEC21) organized a rally outside of David A. Boody Intermediate School (I.S. 228) on Tuesday, April 21, to garner support from local residents, educate them on why the charter schools are not wanted, and hopefully get the Department of Education’s (DOE) attention.

Currently, the DOE is considering the addition of two new charter schools on top of the controversial co-locations in 2014 of Success Academy within Seth Low Intermediate School (99 Avenue P) and Coney Island Prep – an elementary level charter school – within the halls of I.S. 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro Junior High School (8787 24th Avenue). Both co-locations were opposed by the CEC and by parents, students and teachers at the existing schools. Besides the Cavallaro site, Coney Island Prep has two other locations within District 21, bringing the current total of charter school sites to four.

“They’re talking about putting new charter schools into District 21 and currently District 21 is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy,” explained Sally-Ann Bongiovanni-Famularo, a teacher at I.S. 303 and a chapter leader with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

“Many of our schools still have boilers outside and they’re under contract and under construction,” she continued, “the Department of Education – instead of putting money there, where it needs to be to get the work done more efficiently and more effectively – they’re talking about renting out space for charter schools.”

Tony Alberti, a paraprofessional at P.S. 100, agreed.

“We’re really hoping that the resources that are going to this issue would be more for our public schools – schools that have been here forever, that even our parents went to,” said Alberti. “We should have more support for us, not for something new. You can’t fix what’s not broken, and District 21 is absolutely not broken.”

While the financial worries are a concern for many parents and teachers, the quality of the charter schools that would be coming in and the necessity for them in the community are hot-button topics as well.

“The charter schools that have applied to come into the district are the Hebrew Learning Academy, which received an F rating and does not serve its students very well, and Mentora, which is an international high school. District 21 has an international high school at the Lafayette Campus; we don’t need another international high school,” said Judy Gerowitz, the UFT district representative for District 21.

“We service our own students, we’re a very high ranking district in New York City, [and] I’m very proud of the work that we do in the district as well as the work that the parents do through the CECS and the PTAs,” she went on. “That’s why we’re here today. We hope that the Department of Education hears what we have to say.”

“Let’s be honest, we just don’t need them,” said former CEC member, parent and product of District 21 Linda Dalton, pointing out that the Hebrew Learning Academy has already purchased a building nearby in District 22. “I’m a member of the district for 15 years, and this is a fight that we’ve been having for many of them. We have great schools. There is no reason for these charters to come into our district.”

CEC21 sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on April 17 stating its objections to the “unethical methods” utilized by the DOE and requested that the charter school applications be denied and that “no further charter school applicants” be permitted in District 21.

The city of New York is accepting public comment through Thursday evening, April 23. At that point, the comments will be sent to the state Department of Education, which will make the decision as to whether the charter schools will open or not.

Additional reporting contributed by Meaghan McGoldrick.

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