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After Success Academy nixes plan for LES school, parents add to opposition at makeshift hearing

Julian Cohen, an education department official, with Lisa Donlan on stage at P.S. 20 on the Lower East Side.
Julian Cohen, an education department official, with Lisa Donlan on stage at P.S. 20 on the Lower East Side.
Geoff Decker

It took some last-minute scrambling, but two Lower East Side leaders got the public hearing on Success Academy they wanted on Thursday night.

The education department abruptly canceled a meeting meant to solicit public feedback on a Success Academy charter school opening in District 1 after Success made it clear that it would no longer look to open the school this year. But City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who represents part of the district, and Lisa Donlan, an elected parent leader of the Lower East Side and Chinatown district, insisted on pulling the event off anyway, formally sanctioned or not.

Their goal was to offer an early warning of the community’s opposition to Success Academy if it seeks to open a school in the district in the future.

“We’re here to say that we don’t want it under any circumstances,” Donlan said.

At the hearing, held at P.S. 20, officials and parents took turns airing their grievances with Success Academy, the divisive and top-performing charter school network, on a stage decorated with homemade posters.

One speaker, Liz Rosenberg, presented results from a one-day “community engagement lab” held last year and said that parents in the district had already made up their minds about what kind of new school they wanted: One with a Spanish-English dual language program, whose leader is chosen by parents, that emphasizes alternative assessments, that partners with many local community groups, and whose teachers have a say in how money is spent.

In the end, they had the attention of at least one city education official. Julian Cohen, executive director of the city’s Office of School Design and Charter Collaboration, apologized for the “last-minute confusion” around the hearing’s cancelation and stayed to listen to testimony from parents.

He also confirmed what most of the people in the audience already knew: The Success school would not be opening in the district next year.

But Mendez said she remained suspicious that Success had plans to eventually open a school in the district, a gentrifying enclave south of 14th Street and east of Bowery. Success has increasingly branched out beyond the city’s low-income, charter-rich areas like central Brooklyn and the Bronx into neighborhoods with more diverse populations, something Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz has said allows for more diverse schools and is in response to local demand.

The network has not announced specific future plans for the elementary school that had been planned for District 1. Success officials said Thursday that they were canceling plans to open three other elementary schools set for 2015, though the network is planning to open many more in 2016.

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