Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Threats to Two Local Schools Seen in Charter Plan - Updated

The New York City Department of Education has come under fire in recent works for its siting of new charter and elite schools, with critics saying that the DOE is deliberately locating charters and elite schools in upscale and gentrifying neighborhoods, displacing schools that have traditionally serve less well-off students of color (very few of the city's upper-middle and upper class residents send their kids to public schools). Right here in Crown Heights, a fight has arisen over the DOE's plan to put a charter school in the Elijah Stroud Campus at 750 Classon Avenue, which parents and teachers at the two schools located there now (PS 316 and MS 353) say would do irreparable harm to their successful programs.

I'm just familiarizing itself with the situation, but I urge everyone to read this passionate letter from a concerned parent and Councilwoman James' response to the situation. What seems beyond dispute is that both of these schools are high-performing, successful educational institutions. The logic of placing a charter school in the building seems to be centered on the assessment of the school as "underutilized," a verdict that is disputed by parents, teachers, and our Council member. On a personal note, this blogger spent two years doing health, fitness, and nutrition education at over 50 public (including charter) schools in Brooklyn, and had the pleasure of working at PS 316 and MS 353. Both schools were clearly well-run, well-staffed, and well-attended - I would never have characterized the building as "underutilized," unless that term is taken to mean the presence of chaotic overcrowding that one encounters far too often.

Maintaining excellent local public schools should be a top priority for all of us, not just parents. Beyond the obvious importance and value of education, local schools are crucial civic institutions, bringing not just children but parents and communities together. In a neighborhood where change is a destabilizing force and unfamiliar faces are part of that change, interactions on the schoolyard or in the PTA meeting become even more valuable, bridging divides of culture, race, and class and involving community members new and old in the common project of educating our children. On the flip side of this, I can't think of anything more divisive than the destruction of such a school for the placement of an "elite" school, charter or otherwise, that is perceived as exclusive (and though charters do not exclude students on the basis of ability, their admission process often generates an air of exclusivity) - witness the recent controversy over the fate of the John Jay campus in Park Slope.

I'm not informed enough to suggest a motive for the DOE's recent moves, but I do know that the city should do everything it can to empower successful local schools. This means taking a good, hard look at the great things going on inside 750 Classon Avenue before messing with success.

Update: The folks at Patch have some good coverage of a similar battle taking place at PS 9/MS 571.


  1. The political climate at the moment is allowing for much school re-shuffling to occur.


    I don't know if it will be "good change", that it is a different topic.

  2. Hi, I've been in the neighborhood a few months and keep an eye on your blog (thanks!). I have a background in nutrition and culinary education and am trying to find my place in NYC, ideally something that benefits our neighborhood. Can you get in touch and tell me a bit more about your experience as a nutrition educator here? My e-mail is michael.femia@gmail.com Take care