BY MEAGHAN MCGOLDRICK AND PAULA KATINAS
BENSONHURST — A pair of southern Brooklyn lawmakers are asking the city to open a new specialized high school in Bensonhurst, where a soon-to-be-closed all-girls Catholic high school now stands.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Councilmember Justin Brannan wrote a joint letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza Wednesday asking that the site of Bishop Kearney High School, which is scheduled to shutter by the end of the month, be dedicated to a new specialized high school.
In the letter, the officials cited the demand for more specialized schools, noting that in 2019, only 4,798 of 27,521 applicants were offered admission to one of the city’s nine selective high schools. Of those students who enrolled, close to 25 percent were from southern Brooklyn school districts like 20, 21 and 22, they said.
Currently, the closest specialized high schools to the area are Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene and Staten Island Technical High School, across the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. The borough is also home to Brooklyn Latin School in Williamsburg. The rest of the specialized high schools are in either the Bronx or Manhattan.
Gounardes and Brannan also urged the School Construction Authority to consider adding seats to the city’s current specialized high schools to increase enrollment and diversity — the latter at the forefront of de Blasio and Carranza’s push to scrap the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
A spokesperson for the SCA confirmed to the Eagle that the agency is already looking at the Kearney site, and further noted that it has already leased space within the building for Universal Pre-K.
The new specialized high school would also alleviate overcrowding, the lawmakers said. Bishop Kearney, formerly operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, falls within the boundaries of District 21. Its neighboring school zone, District 20, is among the most overcrowded in the city.
“Every family deserves a world-class education for their child. By expanding the number of seats in specialized schools, we can grow the pie rather than arguing over how to slice it,” Gounardes said in a statement (he’s said this to the Eagle before when asked about the SHSAT). “In southern Brooklyn, we have a large number of high-achieving students who would greatly benefit from attending school closer to home. And by dramatically increasing the number of seats citywide, we will extend educational opportunities to many more New York City children.”
In the letter, he and Brannan refer back to the late ’60s and early ’70s when the City University of New York added five new schools to its system — an expansion, they maintained, that doubled CUNY’s enrollment and increased student body diversity dramatically over the course of the next decade.
Five new specialized high schools were added from 2002 to 2006 under the Bloomberg administration, but none have been opened since, Brannan told the Eagle.
“Nobody wanted to see Bishop Kearney close, but this is one way we can turn lemons into lemonade,” he said in a statement. “We know our local school districts are going to continue producing some of the highest achieving students in the city. Why not give these smart and eager eighth graders an expanded choice of specialized high schools right here in southern Brooklyn and, in the process, create more opportunities for everyone – colloquially known as a win-win.”
The lot, located at 2202 60th St., has housed Bishop Kearney since 1961. Built just one year prior, the four-floor building clocks in at almost 65,000 square feet and is considered R6 zoning. According to the Department of City Planning, on lots like Kearney’s, R6 districts encourage tall, narrow buildings that are set back from the street.
It is unclear if the building layout would change if the city agreed to bring a specialized high school in its place, though the SCA would likely have to buy the property from the Brooklyn Diocese. A spokesperson for the diocese told this paper, “Bishop Kearney High School is in the process of vacating the building. As for the future use of the building, we have no specific plans at this time.”
The end came swiftly for Kearney, which announced its closure on May 13, just weeks before the end of the school year. The school, named in memory of Bishop Raymond Kearney, had faced declining enrollment and rising cost for several years.
Gounardes and Brannan hope the school’s next chapter will be one that benefits southern Brooklyn.
“We’ll review the letter, and we’ll continue to work with our communities to ensure families across the City have high-quality high school options,” Department of Education spokesperson Isabelle Boundy told the Eagle.