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At two early college schools, insistence that location matters

Last month, I wrote a story for the Village Voice about the challenges facing early college schools, schools that partner with local universities to offer students a taste of college while they’re still in high school. One major challenge, I reported, is that the schools can’t always maintain space on or near the campus of their partner colleges, threatening the collaborations.

Last week, developments occurred at two of the schools I mentioned in the article that underscore the relationship between location and identity for early college schools. The Daily News reported that Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College is likely to stay in its current home on the campus of the college because the Department of Education is moving to purchase the building. The real estate deal has not been finalized, but the department has come to an agreement with the owner, DOE spokesman Will Havemann told me on Friday.

Also on Friday, parents at an early college school in a different borough were responding to news about their school’s future location. A cadre of parents from Bronx Early College Academy traveled to City Hall Friday afternoon to protest a move planned for their school that would quadruple its distance from its partner college, Lehman College. The parents were protesting both the site, in the building of IS 166, a large middle school that is closing because of poor performance, and the process by which the DOE selected it, according to leader Annabel Wright, who estimated that about 20 parents made the trip to Lower Manhattan.

BECA parents say the new site won’t allow for a robust collaboration between the school and Lehman College. Parent Annabel Wright, who said she chose the school because of its early college model, told me the commute by DOE-provided bus between IS 166 and Lehman will take a big chunk out of BECA’s extended school day, which runs until 4:30 p.m. (She estimated that the commute, with traffic, could take more than half an hour each way. Mapquest.com says the drive should take about 15 minutes each way.)

Wright, who said she chose BECA because of its early college model, told me she though the school’s newly strong leadership would not be able to make up for the distance. “I feel like there will be success, but it doesn’t allow for the ultimate success of what can happen in this program,” she said.

In my Village Voice article, I quoted the principal of a college-partnered school in Staten Island, who told me that commuting by bus and car to their classes at the College of Staten Island hasn’t been a problem for her students. And Cass Conrad, who heads the early college initiative for the City University of New York, told me she hoped that schools and colleges would develop innovative solutions for the logistical problems posed by distance.

Wright and another BECA parent I spoke to, Ibrahim Bah, also said they were disappointed that the DOE chose the site before they had a change to visit it. Havemann said the engagement process about the new site had long preceded the DOE’s decision to move BECA into the IS 166 building. Last year, the Post reported that BECA parents had been told that the school might not be able to add high school grades unless it found a larger site. The space that the school is vacating in Riverdale is being turned into an annex space for an overcrowded elementary school there, the Riverdale Press reported back in January.

Wright said BECA should never have been put in the position of being given a location that’s far away from Lehman College. “When this school was in development four years ago, there should have been a permanent plan,” she said. “[The DOE is] opening all these schools with great programs. They need to think about the sites.”

CORRECTED: The original version of this post incorrectly identified the name of the school where BECA is moving.