Round 2

A tour reignites a feud, and sheds light on Harlem space wars

     Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer reflects on his tour of P.S. 123 today.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer reflects on his tour of P.S. 123 today.

Scott Stringer and Eva Moskowitz are fighting again, not over an elected office this time, but over school space.

Stringer, who defeated Moskowitz in a fierce borough presidency race in 2005, reignited the flames by taking a tour of a Harlem elementary school today. The school, P.S. 123, shares space with Harlem Success Academy 2, one of Moskowitz’s four charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that are privately operated.

Stringer’s visit, guided by P.S. 123 parents, teachers, and members of the activist group ACORN, was the latest attempt by supporters of the school to try to stop Harlem Success from expanding into its classrooms as the charter school adds a first grade. (An earlier scuffle between the two schools ended with police intervention.)

The building tour provided a rare on-the-ground view of the space wars that have accelerated as more and more school buildings house multiple schools.

Piles of furniture and boxes of supplies cluttered a third floor hallway, the detritus of Harlem Success’ move last week, P.S. 123 parents and teachers explained. School supporters also pointed to spaces they fear they will lose to the charter school, including a gym that Harlem Success has proposed splitting in half by partition so that both schools could use it at once. They said they also worry their library will be converted into a classroom.

John White, the city Department of Education’s chief portfolio officer, later told me that neither possibility is set in stone. The library will remain as it is, and will be shared by both schools, under a formal space-sharing agreement school leaders will craft, White said. And while it’s true that Harlem Success proposed splitting the gym, nothing will be settled until the principals meet and agree on a final plan, White said.

The tour made its way down to the basement, where everyone filed into a room that is used for after-school activities and GED classes and felt stuffy. The DOE has designated the room as classroom space for P.S. 123 next year, but teachers said there is little ventilation and the room easily overheats, making it unusable.

In our interview, White suggested that the school move its administrative offices there, noting that while the DOE apportions each principal a set number of classrooms, it does not tell them how to use the space.

According to White, each school was assigned a number of classrooms based on the size of its student body. In the next year, the DOE predicts that the schools will have a combined population of 950 students, with roughly 650 at P.S. 123 and 300 at the Academy. The building’s capacity is 1,034.

“This building used to have a thousand kids, and now they’re saying that there’s no space,” White said, “When parent demand changes, space usage has to change.”

But the two schools have been squabbling over how to divvy up the space for months since they first sat down to write a formal space-sharing agreement in May. Most recently, police were called to break up an argument when, without warning, Harlem Success movers began hauling boxes into additional classrooms and P.S. 123 teachers tried to stop them. Moskowitz said in a statement that the DOE had turned over the rooms to her on July 1, but the DOE says she had not been given the go-ahead to actually move into them.

The fight also led to a protest outside one of the charter school’s classrooms in which opponents changed “HSA go away,” Harlem Success officials said in a statement today.

At the end of the tour, Stringer called on the DOE to suspend HSA’s expansion until both principals had met and resolved the space issues — what he described as a “cooling out” period. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who is also the president of the new Board of Education, denied the request in a letter today.

“The implementation of this plan has been delayed due to the adjustment process, for some time, already jeopardizing the ability of schools to re-open in August,” Walcott wrote.

Moskowitz used the tour and Stringer’s comments as an opportunity to fire back. She issued a press release calling the borough president and ACORN organizers “union hacks.” Both Stringer and ACORN are close allies of the city teachers union, whose strenuous campaigning helped Stringer defeat Moskowitz in 2005.

The press release also accused teachers at P.S. 123 of being concerned only about their teachers lounge, which will likely be converted into a classroom. Among the many concerns they listed on the tour, teachers never mentioned a lounge.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.