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Challenge for schools tied to colleges: Locating near a college

The ongoing plight of parents at a Bronx secondary school could augur the future for a new Gates Foundation education initiative.

Last week, the Gates Foundation announced that it would pour $6 million into opening new early college schools in New York State. It’s not clear how many, if any, of the programs will be in New York City, but any that are could face the same problems as Bronx Early College Academy, a three-year-old school that is being moved far away from the college with which it’s ostensibly linked.

Parents at BECA have been lobbying all year against the move, which they say will make it harder for the school to carry out its mission of providing students a college experience while they’re still in high school. I wrote about Annabel Wright, a BECA parent leader, back in May, and now she has published an open letter to President Obama about the school at the NYC Public School Parents blog. Writes Wright:

Parents believed in the academic program and the mission of BECA enough to look beyond what we did not have. We held on to the promises made by DOE officials that they would find us a suitable site near to Lehman or on the college campus itself, with all of the amenities that a high-tech, early college program should provide – as well as a site that would allow our children to easily attend college classes during the school day when they reached 9th grade.

Yet now, the school is being moved six miles away to the South Bronx –even further away from Lehman.

The pattern is a familiar one for early college schools, which aim to offer a college experience while students are still in high school. Several of the city’s early college schools have had seen their CUNY collaborations erode over time because of space constraints and the colleges’ competing priorities. I wrote about the trend in April in the Village Voice.

BECA’s situation might not be as dire as Wright is suggesting. DOE spokesman Will Havemann told me in May that DOE officials did meet with BECA parents earlier this year and took their concerns into account when planning the school’s move. Last week, he said the school would get bus service whenever students need to travel between the high school and Lehman College, even if that’s before 2011. But he said few students at early college schools take courses on college campuses in their first two years of high school.

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