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Williamsburg Success charter school co-location details emerge

Two days before the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on Brooklyn co-locations for two Success Network charter schools, a proposal for a third school in the heart of Williamsburg is taking shape.

The Department of Education is expected to release the proposal as early as today for the school, which would open next year with about 180 students in Kindergarten and first grade. The school would be sited at J.H.S 50 John D Wells, a middle school with about 450 students.

The proposal comes weeks after a plan was announced to expand the Success Network into a more affluent part of the borough known as Brownstone Brooklyn in District 15. That announcement was met with fierce opposition from the district’s Community Education Council and from education activists who say that the school is not in demand from the community.

In both instances, the interest in entering new neighborhoods underlines a strategic shift for the Success charter network’s academic mission, which has previously been to concentrate on narrowing the achievement gap for low-income students living in poor communities. By opening in areas with larger populations of middle class families, Success Network head Eva Moskowitz said she wants to open enrollment at her schools to more affluent students.

Moskowitz has already expressed interest in opening a school in Williamsburg and its charter was approved for District 14 in September, but details about where it would be located were not certain.

The proposal will likely replace the Academy for Young Writers, a five-year-old school that is headed to east Brooklyn, where many of its students reside. The departure will leave the five-story school building’s top two floors vacant and at about 34 percent capacity.

Despite the available space, the plan will still most likely face steep opposition. Some protesters already began voicing concerns last month at a parent information session about the school, according to parents who attended the meeting.

The new Success school will open just as one long-standing elementary school in Williamsburg is set to close. Last week, the DOE picked P.S. 19, a century-old school that has struggled on standardized state test scores in recent years, to begin phasing out at the end of the school year.

The schools would follow the model of Upper West Success, which Moskowitz opened on Manhattan’s Upper West Side last year despite two lawsuits from community members who opposed the school.

Unlike the Upper West Side and Cobble Hill, however, Williamsburg is still emerging as a middle class family enclave. The pace of gentrification in the neighborhood has rapidly increased since 2005, when the city approved a series of re-zonings that paved the way to build high-rise condos and convert warehouses into luxury apartments. Now, average median income in many parts of Williamsburg are more than double the city average of about $38,000, according to census data.

“There’s still a huge, young artist community, but you’re starting to see more and more strollers,” said Alexandra Tremaine, a freelance photographer whose 4-year old daughter enters kindergarten next year. “You see it on the subways, you see on the streets. You can’t avoid it.”

Tremaine said she learned of the Success Network after attending an information session for parents and became convinced that she wanted to enroll her daughter in the Williamsburg school. She cited the school’s academic track record, but also said she had been disappointed with other school options since moving to the neighborhood in June.

“The options without the charter school are pretty grim, to the point where I would move,” Tremaine said.

Tremaine said that while she recognized that P.S. 84 was improving, she said she wasn’t willing to be a part of the process. “I just want the best education for my kid now,” Tremaine said.

“We think there’s a great need in Williamsburg,” said spokeswoman Jenny Sedlis.

The Cobble Hill Success plan will be voted on for approval by the Panel for Educational Policy on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at Newtown High School. The PEP will also vote on a proposal for a Success school planned to be co-located at P.S. 59 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a District 14 school. That proposal, while less controversial, has already been criticized by P.S. 59’s PTA president.