Streams

Competition for Cobble Hill School Site

Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 02:21 PM

As the city's Department of Education moves to bring a charter school to Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood, a state assemblywoman and a former city schools official are backing a different school proposal that would compete with the charter school for space.

The proposal asks the department to open an early learning center that would serve students in prekindergarten and kindergarten who live walking distance from 284 Baltic Street, the same address the city plans to give a new Success Academy Network charter school. Carmen Farina, a former deputy chancellor for the Department of Education who retired in 2006, and Joan L. Millman, a state assemblywoman representing Cobble Hill, are both promoting the idea as the best way to use available space in the Baltic Street building.

Ms. Millman, who represents the Cobble Hill neighborhood, said she met with Ms. Farina and Jim Devor, the head of the Community Education Council for District 15, earlier this week about the proposal. It is also being promoted by the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy organization that often protests school closings and decisions to place multiple schools in the same building.

"The biggest need in this neighborhood is for an early childhood center," said Ms. Farina, who lives in Cobble Hill and worked as a teacher and superintendent there before becoming a deputy chancellor under Chancellor Joel I. Klein. Though she does not object to charter schools, she would prefer a plan that comes from what local parents want, rather than from the "outside," she said.

"This is not so much anti this as pro what we need," she said. By supporting the new proposal, Ms. Farina is de facto challenging her old boss, a prospect that she said does not bother her. "My loyalty is to this community," she said.

There is some confusion over the proposal's origins. Ms. Farina said that opening an early learning center was not her idea and said it was came from the Alliance for Quality Education. But an organizer for the group and other community leaders said the proposal originated with Ms. Farina.

Ms. Millman said that opening the center was one of several ideas that Cobble Hill residents were floating as an alternative to the charter school, which would serve students in kindergarten to fourth grade in that building, with plans to expand to eighth grade elsewhere. It is one of three charter schools that Eva S. Moskowitz, Success Charter Network's founder and its executive director, plans to open in Brooklyn next year.

Ms. Millman said she objected to the charter school proposal because it could impede the growth of the Brooklyn School for Global Studies, a secondary school that shares the Baltic Street building with the School for International Studies and a District 75 program. The Brooklyn School for Global Studies is undergoing a federal school improvement plan that, Ms. Millman and others hope, will eventually increase enrollment.

"If we had a really quality prekindergarten and kindergarten program, it would relieve the overcrowding these schools currently have," Ms. Millman said, referring to nearby elementary schools in the district. And because the center would only serve children in two grades and would not expand, it would not threaten the growth of the Global Studies school, she said.

In proposing to open a charter school in Cobble Hill, Education Department officials have cited the same rationale. New families are flooding in to District 15; neighborhood parks are beginning to resemble playpens, and the most coveted elementary schools are becoming crowded. P.S. 261 Philip Livingston school, P.S. 58 The Carroll school, and P.S. 146 were all over-enrolled last school year.

But the city's proposal was instantly met with resistance from among some parents and educators in the neighborhood and recent meetings to discuss its arrival in the have been contentious.

City education officials said they have not been approached about other proposals for the site.


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