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Holiday feast in Flatbush unifies a district and charter school

In some shared school buildings, district and charter schools struggle over scarce resources. In Flatbush, they are sharing their bounty.

Fahari Academy Charter School and M.S. 246, Walt Whitman Middle School, held a potluck holiday dinner Wednesday in their shared gymnasium. The event, billed as a showcase for the schools’ working relationship, comes as the year’s fights over new co-locations start to heat up.

The walls were spruced up with red drapes, silver tinsel, and strings of lights, and long tables decorated with poinsettias and silver candelabras were set in a semi-circle to encourage mingling between the schools. A deejay kept a holiday playlist going as attendees selected from dozens of buffet options, heaping their plates with jerk chicken, baked ziti, and curried goat.

Catina Venning, Fahari’s executive director, and Bently Warrington, Walt Whitman’s principal, said they hope that the respectful relationship they have worked to establish will trickle down to staff and students. While this is the first shared holiday party, the schools have worked together on other initiatives, including a community cleanup last June.

The event was planned by a committee made up of two representatives from each school. The vision was a winter wonderland and the responsibilities were split between the schools: Walt Whitman took on most of the cooking and Fahari focused on the decorations.

Fahari opened in the M.S. 246 building in 2009. During the co-location’s first two years, as Fahari expanded from fifth to sixth grade, the schools experienced some kinks as the two leaders adjusted to each other’s styles and established protocols for divvying up common facilities. Fahari also experienced difficulties of its own, including a D on the city’s progress report and concerns about school culture that led to a successful unionization effort by its teachers.

“In the beginning, it was difficult, I’m not going to lie,” Venning said.

She said she had heard co-location horror stories and thought there had been “external parties driving a wedge” between the schools by spreading misinformation about Fahari’s impact.

Ultimately, she said, the principals made a “conscious, internal effort” to establish a positive relationship, adding that it helped that she understood Fahari was the newcomer.

“Coming in blazing like a maverick isn’t a good idea,” she said.

Warrington agreed that the politics of co-location were not as important as the community’s students that the schools were jointly serving.

“The bottom line is the kids,” he said. “It is irrelevant if it’s Walt Whitmam or Fahari, they have to attend school.”

Venning’s goal for this year is for the two principals to become so tight that they wear matching outfits by June. That collaboration is still up in the air.

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