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Demand for newest Success charter schools isn't always local

With weeks to go before the deadline to apply to city charter schools, early numbers suggest that two controversial new schools are finding some takers — but mostly not from the neighborhoods where they are set to open.

Cobble Hill Success Academy and Williamsburg Success Academy, the newest additions to Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network, have each received hundreds of applications already, according to the network. Cobble Hill has gotten nearly a thousand applications for its kindergarten and first grade, while the Williamsburg school has garnered nearly 700.

But despite vigorous recruitment efforts, most of those applications are from outside the schools’ districts. Just 260 of Cobble Hill’s applicants come from District 15, and fewer than 200 applicants have signed on from District 14.

Applications are due April 1, giving the schools nearly three weeks to find takers. But they do not appear to be on track to meet the numbers posted last year by Upper West Success, which opened amid protest. That school received 700 applications from residents of District 3 yet still opened under capacity this fall.

Enrollment numbers are high stakes for new charter schools, which must prove local demand in order to win the right to open. The Success Network collected 4,100 signatures from people in District 15 who said they thought a new charter school was needed there. If too few local students enroll, it could damage the schools’ credibility and undermine them if they try to open additional schools elsewhere, as the Success network plans to.

One reason for the relatively low local application rate could be local antipathy toward the schools. Both plans have drawn legal challenges, and community members in District 14 have waged a particularly vociferous battle against the school there.

Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for the charter network, said the lower demand in Williamsburg reflected districtwide under-enrollment more than a judgement on the charter schools.

“Nearly every Williamsburg school around Success is under-enrolled yet this school has a waitlist,” Lyon said of District 14. “If that doesn’t say there is a high demand, I don’t know what does.”

Even adversaries said the numbers reflected substantial local interest. “They’re higher than I thought they would have been,” said Tesa Wilson, president of the District 14 Community Education Council, which opposed Williamsburg Success. “I thought it would be a little lower.”

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