space wars

A charter school finds itself stuck between two controversies

Council member Steve Levin and State Assembly Member Joan Millman rally with staff, parents and children outside two closing day care centers.

(Update: A spokesperson for the city Administration for Children Services tells GothamSchools that Strong Place and Bethel Day Care Centers will continue operating until Friday, June 17, in order to give parents more time to find alternative care options.)

A charter school with an uncertain future has found private space for the next school year, hoping to appease the neighborhood opposition where it’s currently co-located.

But in the process, it collided with another citywide controversy: the mayor’s decision to close day care centers.

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has co-located at Sunset Park High School since it opened two years ago, but that community wants them out. So last week, the school signed a one-year lease this week to move into 238 Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill. A permanent, privately-funded facility scheduled to open in 2012 is being built down the road.

The challenge is that the previous tenants at the rental building were two popular day care centers that have been neighborhood institutions for over 30 years. Bethel Day Care and Strong Place Day Care are two of eight programs ending as a result of Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts.

Today, Bethel and Strong Place were among five centers to close their doors for good. Parents, employees and young children from the centers joined Council Member Steve Levin outside of the building to protest the cuts.

“We’re here to stand up against what the city has done. Stand up against what the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has done,” said Levin, who was joined by State Assembly Member Joan Millman and about 30 others. “These programs, we have fought for year after year, so that your children have a safe place to stay.”

The centers would have closed regardless, but Levin partially blamed Brooklyn Prospect’s pursuit of the $750,000 lease for the inability to restore funding.

“It’s tough enough to get funding restored for the daycare centers, but when you have a charter school come in and sign a lease, it makes it all the more difficult,” he said.

The lease includes a termination clause that would allow the centers to stay if they could afford the rent. That looked increasingly unlikely, however, with Bloomberg holding firm to his budget cuts.

Several parents pledged to return next week and resume their protest even though the centers’ doors would be closed.

“Keep on your toes because this fight is not over. We might have to be back here on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” Levin said to cheers.

If a termination clause is somehow enacted, Brooklyn Prospect would have to turn back to its original option, the contentious co-location at Sunset Park High School.

Sunset Park High School opened in 2009 in a brand new, five-story building with state-of-the-art facilities. It is the culmination of a nearly four-decade fight to build a high school for the neighborhood’s growing population. The financial crisis during the1970s initially stalled their efforts, but the community did not give up its fight.

Brooklyn Prospect opened the same year with one sixth grade class. It was supposed to be temporary, but the co-location was extended each of the last two years this year , leading critics to question whether it would ever leave.

“It flies in the face of DOE’s promise to our community, which fought for 40 years to get our one and only high school,” said Sunset Park’s Community Board Manager Jeremy Laufer. “Why should we now believe their promise that this will only be one year?”

Brooklyn Prospect executive director Daniel Rubenstein declined to comment.

As part of efforts to revise its co-location plans, the education department will hold a joint public hearing for Sunset Park High School, but it’s unclear whether that will be necessary now that Brooklyn Prospect has found its own space.

A Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

NYC Charter School Center Chief Executive Officer James Merriman wrote in a blog post today that the criticism toward Brooklyn Prospect was misguided.

“The fact is that these two day care centers are being shut down because New York City has defunded them not because their space is being rented out to the charter school by a private landlord,” Merriman wrote.

“If ever there was a more damned if you do damned if you don’t situation, I haven’t seen it.”

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.