Huge Turnout Over New Williamsburg Charter School

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A public hearing on a proposal to co-locate a new Success Academy charter school with Junior High School 50 John D. Wells in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, drew hundreds of people Thursday night, with both supporters and opponents reacting heatedly to the plan.

Gathered in the middle school's auditorium, nearly 300 parents, students, teachers and advocates literally took sides: those who sported vibrant orange Success Academy spirit wear were on one side of the room, with a larger group brandishing red stop signs with the phrase “No to charter schools” sitting on the opposite side.

Another 200 people had to wait in nearby classrooms until people left the auditorium, so they could slip in.

Eva Moskowitz, the former city councilwoman who runs the network of Success Academy Charter Schools, attended the Education Department hearing. Her proposal to place a K-4 charter in the neighborhood has been approved by the State University of New York, which is an authorizer of charters. Thursday's hearing was solely on where it would be located.

J.H.S. 50, which received a C on its last school progress report, has 470 students in grades 6 to 8. The old building, at 183 South 3 Street, is also home to the Academy for Young Writers High School, which has 370 students. That school, which is moving to another location, received an A on its last progress report.

Despite intense opposition in the school auditorium to the Success proposal, Ms. Moskowitz maintained that there was an educational need for another Success Academy in Brooklyn.

“There are good schools here, but I don’t see why deny parents another option,” she said.

Ms. Moskowitz has also encountered opposition -- and support -- for her proposal to bring a Success Academy school to Brooklyn's Cobble Hill section next fall.

Janet Rentas, 37, who has lived in the Williamsburg area for 15 years, said she appreciated the opportunity to have a choice of where to send her 5-year-old son, Jayden.

She said she first saw fliers for the new Success Academy posted on store windows throughout the area last winter. Displeased with the public school options in her neighborhood, she decided to take a tour of the new Success Academy Upper West in December.

Ms. Rentas said she was immediately impressed with the kindergarten class she visited, where several of the students were engaged in a game of chess.

“If I could get an equal education at a charter school, why not?” she said, comparing the quality of education at Success Academy to that of a private school. “I am a single mom and I would have to work a lot to send him to a Catholic school, but I would sacrifice if I had to.”

Yet dozens of parents who attended the hearing said that bringing in the charter school -- known as Brooklyn Success Academy Charter School 4 -- would change the fabric of the neighborhood.

“We live across the street from the school,” said Adriana Grullon, 31, of Williamsburg. “I went to the school, I know the teachers, I can watch my son walk to school and know that he is safe. I want my kids to keep going here, to this middle school, not Success Academy.”

Julie Rivera, 15, who is in the eighth grade at J.H.S. 50, said she worked well with her teachers and was proud of what her school offered, including Spanish and English classes to serve its many bilingual students.

She said she wanted her sister, who would start at J.H.S. 50 in the fall, to have that same positive academic experience.

“We don’t need to buy education; we have it here,” Ms. Rivera said. “There's comfort in this community, there’s comfort in this school. I want my school to be the same way it is now.”