New Sunset Park charter school to open inside former Bay Ridge Savings Bank building

A new dual-language charter school opening this fall in Sunset Park has found its home.

LEEP Dual Language Academy Charter School, which got the go-ahead this past November from the New York State Board of Regents to open in the neighborhood in August, will welcome kindergarten and first grade students to the historic Chase building, formerly known as Bay Ridge Savings Bank, 5323 Fifth Avenue, when the new school year begins.

The school made the announcement on Facebook on May 9.

“Thanks to a long-term lease agreement for the three floors above Chase Bank, this safe and stately building will be our home for kindergarten through third grade,” the post read.  “The facility is easily reachable via public transit (R/N trains and B63 bus) and school bus service will be available to qualifying families via NYC DOE.”

“We’re thrilled to be located in such a convenient and prominent location, where families can find us for many years to come,” LEEP Chief Operating Officer Michael Regnier told this paper. “We’ve always said we wanted to be in the heart of Sunset Park, and accessible from Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, South Slope and surrounding areas. The building’s historic architecture is just icing on the cake. “

Regnier explained that LEEP will have classrooms on the second and third floors this year, following cosmetic renovations.

“Next year, we’ll add the fourth floor, which even has views of the water,” he said. “If you look carefully you can even see the Statue of Liberty, which I think is poetic for a school that’s about welcoming students from all backgrounds.”

Eventually, said Regnier, LEEP will include middle school as well as elementary school grades.

“Our plan is to create one excellent school that welcomes all students and equips them to thrive in two languages, and then share what we’re doing as broadly as possible,” he said. “We are currently chartered to serve K-5 but our aspiration is to extend that to K-8, because we know how much families care about finding strong middle school options.”

However, not everyone is as enthusiastic as the school’s administration is about its imminent arrival in the area.

“While our district’s students and their families face a pressing need for more schools and more resources, new charter schools are not the solution,” Councilmember Carlos Menchaca told this paper in a statement. “Charter schools do nothing to address overcrowding in our schools, while channeling resources away from our struggling district public schools. As a representative of one of the most diverse districts in the city, I am opposed to any new charter schools in our community. Instead, what our families need are more resources and investment in our district public schools.”

Victoria Quiroz Becerra, a director of Voces Ciudadana, an organization that focuses on overcrowding in schools in Sunset Park, also expressed concerns.

“We have been fighting for over three years to bring new schools to the neighborhood so our concern was that not all of the new seats would be public school seats,” she said.

Among the issues, said Becerra, is “funds going to public-private partnerships” rather than directly into the public school system. “A significant amount of funds go into charter schools that we think would be better spent in our public schools,” she said, noting that there is already a dual-language elementary school in the neighborhood, P.S. 24.

“LEEP coming into the neighborhood, we don’t see how that helps public schools,” she said. “Why can’t those funds just go to public schools and strengthen them?”

In addition, Becerra cited lack of parent input inherent in the charter school structure.

“We are concerned that charter schools bypass some of the positives that are in place in the Department of Education to get parent input,” she said. “A main concern is that parents won’t have a voice with the charter schools and the momentum we have built in Sunset Park specifically highlighting the voices of parents will be diluted.”

Asked to respond to the concerns, Regnier said, “We’re proud to be a non-profit, community-based charter school offering a new option for families. We don’t worry too much about criticisms because we meet real moms and dads every day who ask us, ‘Where has this been?’”

Regnier added that the school received the support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, “even before the Board of Regents approved us, and others have helped us quietly. We’re going to keep developing positive relationships across the community.”

LEEP Chief Operating Officer Michael Regnier outside the location.

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