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In a first, new charter to absorb students leaving closing school

City officials are planning to replace a struggling Brooklyn elementary school with an unusual charter school next year — the first in the city to give admissions preference to students stuck in the closing school.

If the citywide school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, votes to phase out P.S. 114 in Canarsie, Brooklyn starting next year, two new schools will open in the building. One will be a typical zoned elementary school for all students in District 18. The other will be Explore Charter School — the first charter school in the city that will give admissions preference to students at the low-performing school it replaces.

When most New York City charter schools open, they typically give admissions preference to students who live in a certain district. These districts usually encompass several neighborhoods and a handful of public schools, allowing the charter to draw students from all over the region.

But Explore plans to operate differently.

Current kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade students at P.S. 114 will be given preference in Explore’s lottery, which means they have the best chance of getting one of 224 seats. If there’s still room, second preference will go to students who are zoned for P.S. 114, but attend other schools (this is about half the students in the zone). After them, preference will go to students throughout District 18 who are attending schools that are being phased out for poor performance.

“What’s very different about this is we’re saying to parents and kids in a school that’s failing, here’s an option that does not ask you to relocate or leave your community,” said Morty Ballen, CEO of the Explore Schools network. “It’s about you and your community; we’re staying right here.”

Many charter schools only admit students in the youngest grades, which means that they work with students who have never enrolled in a struggling school, or who only attended for one year. By contrast, Explore’s new school will open with kindergarten through third grade. That means many of its students will likely have spent several years at P.S. 114 and who may already be significantly behind grade level. It also means that students at the charter will begin taking state tests in the schools’ first year, so the school will have to boost student achievement quickly.

P.S. 114, which has gone through two principals in the last two years, saw its students’ test scores drop low enough last year to earn the school a D on its progress report. Parents and teachers who believe the school is being unfairly targeted for closure say that school has been burdened by the $180,000 debt left by a principal they asked the city to remove.

The other elementary school the city plans to open in the building next year, P.S. 521, will guarantee seats to P.S. 114 students who don’t apply for the Explore lottery, as well as those who do, but don’t make it in.

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