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Queens Chronicle

BACK TO SCHOOL Charter school dreams undaunted

Theater founder says community needs Black Spectrum MS plan

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 4:59 pm, Thu Aug 29, 2013.

With two applications rejected in recent years, one could forgive Carl Clay for being apprehensive about asking the state for a charter school that would be run by his Black Spectrum Theatre Company.

But nothing could be further from the truth, with Clay more upbeat than ever in a recent interview.

“I look at it as we’ve learned a lot of things,” Clay said. “This isn’t the lottery. We didn’t lose anything. We’ve gained a lot of knowledge in the process.”

Clay, with credits as a writer, producer and filmmaker, founded the theater in 1970 in an effort to showcase and foster African- American cultural expression in the community, and to broaden exposure to contemporary film and live theater.

Clay is a product of and has taught in the city’s public schools, and said at times he had to overcome difficulties as a student.

“Here in District 29, parents do not have a lot of options,” Clay said. “And sixth, seventh and eighth grade are important developmental years for children.”

State University of New York charter school officials rejected applications the last two times, leading Clay’s team to regroup, seeking out talented advisors knowledgeable about the system and the process.

September’s application will be to the state’s Department of Education.

“If they approve, we could open in September 2014,” he said. “Nothing against the SUNY system, but there if you are rejected, you have to wait a year to apply again, then it takes another year before you can open. I don’t want to be 99 and still waiting to open a school.”

Clay said those with concerns sometimes have to be reminded that a charter school still would be a New York City public school.

“We would take IEP [special education] students, ELL [English Language Learner] students, everybody,” Clay said.

And the arts, which in tough times tend to be particularly vulnerable to the Department of Education’s budget ax, would play a key role in enriching students beyond the three Rs.

The initial plan would be to bring in 125 students the first year, then to approximately double that the following September before filling up in their third year.

Clay said 375 slots would not only enrich the students at a Black Spectrum school, but also help alleviate overcrowding in neighboring middle-school feeder zones.

And he does not take pause at the very real possibility that he could have hundreds and hundreds of applications each time he opens 125 or so slots.

“That’s what choice is all about,” he said. “Plus there will be some attrition — students changing their minds or parents deciding to make another choice. And I don’t want it to be just us. We want more charter schools in the district.”

The Parks Department has denied permission to house the school at the theater’s sprawling complex, and Clay believes it might have to incubate at another school until it can become established.

Welcome to the discussion.