Streams

In Cobble Hill, Continued Resistance to New Charters

Thursday, March 08, 2012 - 03:37 PM

P.S. 261 Philip LivingstonRichard Perry/The New York Times P.S. 261 in Cobble Hill.

Eva Moskowitz's charter school network has endured another winter of protests against its new schools and arrived safely on the other side with official approval to open three charter schools in Brooklyn next fall. But that has not put a stop to local opposition, particularly in Cobble Hill, where some teachers and parents have responded with small acts of defiance.

Emily Brandt, an 11th-grade English teacher at the School for International Studies, which will share its building with the Cobble Hill Success Academy next year, started a blog in January, the day boxes were dropped off so teachers could begin packing.

She named it "Inside Colocation," and began tracking the little changes in the building as her school begins packing up its high school rooms for a move to the second floor and loses six full-size classrooms.

"A lot of people have misconceptions about what co-locations look like," Ms. Brandt said, and the blog is meant to bring outsiders into her world of cracked floor tiles and changing floor plans. Most posts include photos of the building and brief descriptions of what is being lost or gained by the Success Academy's arrival.

"I'm not opposed to charter schools but I’m very much opposed to co-locations," she said.

"Our students have so few opportunities," she said. "It seems unjust for them to give up some of their resources to squeeze another school into the building."

In one post, Ms. Brandt wrote about the school's "bleak" playground, which is being renovated after a work order was put in four years ago. In another, she included a photo of the school's new computer lab. None of the rooms on the second floor have enough wiring to support dozens of desktops, she writes, leaving it unclear how the school will get its lab back.

According to the city's space allocation plans, the Success Academy school will have 12 full-size classrooms and a few half-size ones by next fall, when its 80-90 kindergarteners and first graders arrive. The packing starts in June, Ms. Brandt said.

A few blocks away from the School for International Studies, parents and teachers at Public School 261 Philip Livingston, a popular Boerum Hill elementary school, have been trying to get Success Academy people to stop handing out fliers in front of their school during dismissal.

The network is known to be an aggressive marketer -- it blankets neighborhoods with fliers, and subway stations with posters -- but P.S. 261 parents and teachers saw it as poaching.

"The parents are really upset the charter is coming into the neighborhood, and they’re really upset that they're standing outside the school trying to take away our students," said Jamie Fidler, a teacher at P.S. 261 who was featured in the film "American Teacher," which was backed by the United Federation of Teachers.

Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Success Academy, said the network was just trying to disseminate information.

"Success Academy had heard from countless Cobble Hill parents that they want additional high-performing public school options to complement P.S. 261, P.S. 58, P.S. 29 and others, and we are committed to making sure parents know this option exists," Ms. Lyon wrote in an e-mail.

Ms. Lyon would not comment on the network's policy on where its employees should distribute fliers, but it is not the first time parents have complained of Success Academy targeting them as they exit a public school.

Teachers at P.S. 261 said they first tried asking the man handing out fliers to leave, but to no effect. Then on Thursday, parents, teachers and students gathered in front of the school to confront him and ask why the Success Academy school was superior to their own.

The conversation did not go well -- he was hired to hand out fliers, not to defend the school's existence -- but it energized parents and teachers.

"We can still fight it in our little ways," Ms. Fidler said.

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