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Far Rockaway charter school takes its fight 23 miles to Tweed

Parents of Peninsula Preparatory Academy believe politics is what doomed their school to closure in the first place. Now, they’re hoping the very same forces will keep it open.

With the support of State Sen. Malcolm Smith and City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., more than 100 PPA parents and supporters made the 23-mile trek from Far Rockaway, Queens to lower Manhattan to protest at the Department of Education against its decision to close the school.

Smith didn’t attend the rally, but a spokeswoman said he donated $600 to pay for one of the buses. Smith’s support for the school is well-documented. He served on the founding board of Victory Schools, Inc., a for-profit charter school management company until 2006 and sponsored a $100,000 member item for Peninsula Prep to buy computers in 2010, a move that raised eyebrows at the time from good government advocates. Smith did not respond to requests for comment.

Sanders, Jr. attended, but admitted he previously didn’t know much about school’s plight. He said he threw his support behind it once he saw how much his constituents cared about the issue.

“Was it Gandhi who said, ‘there go the people. I must follow them because I am their leader’?” said Sanders, Jr. “When my bosses are going to a place where they feel strongly about something, ten to one, that’s a place I should be.”

Much of the organizing so far has occurred amongst the parents, with limited support from advocacy groups or elected officials. Organizing for closing schools usually comes from the teachers union or groups that it supports, such as the Alliance for Quality Education. But Peninsula Prep is a nonunion charter school, and its location on the Far Rockaways, an isolated area with a longstanding sense of neglect, has made it a difficult for parents to drum up support.

That’s why the parents took their protest to the steps of Tweed this afternoon, parents said today.

“We had to come out here and show that the parents were willing to jump on buses, all the way from Rockaway, take the day off of work, and come stand up for a school that we think has served our children well,” said Josmar Trujillo, the school’s PTO co-president.

With the help of a representative from Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, parents marched around City Hall and then spent more than an hour at Tweed, shouting chants like “PPA, All the Way” and “Save our School.”

Chancellor Dennis Walcott has agreed to meet with parents and board members to discuss the school’s status. DOE officials said one of the reasons its is closing the school, which received a C on its progress report, is because it failed to meet its charter’s academic goals. It was the first time that the DOE had moved to close a mediocre charter school and, with few quality school options available to them, parents said it was a politically-motivated decision.

“The major talking point is, if we’re a C school, PPA has outperformed the schools that you are referring us to,” said Lisa George, co-president of PPA’s parent organization. “We’re asking for Walcott to please reconsider his decision and give us at least another year to prove to him that we can get A’s.”

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