The Department of Education gave the community one final opportunity on Monday to weigh in on the proposed co-location in September of a Success Academy middle school for one year within IS 238-Susan B. Anthony Academy in Hollis.
The DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy was scheduled to vote last night, May 20, on both the Success proposal and one to locate a District 75 school for students with special needs in the same space in the 2021-22 school year after Success leaves.
The overwhelming subject of discussion was the Success plan. And with the majority of those seeking to speak during the teleconference being members of the faculty and staff at IS 238, it did not meet with raves.
The teleconference was moderated by Karin Goldmark, deputy chancellor for School Planning and Development. There also were representatives from the Office of District Planning and the Office of Space Planning.
Goldmark said first that under the formula used for middle schools, IS 238 has 18 rooms that can be regarded as extra space. Success would need 12 of those rooms for the 2020-21 year while it works with the city for a long-term space for the following year. The District 75 school would require eight rooms.
“If both plans pass, Success will have to move out next year,” Goldmark said. She said the DOE is hemmed in by a number of factors, including a state law that requires the city to provide space or rental reimbursement for charter schools requesting them.
Speakers said children at IS 238 have been through a disruptive school year already, brought on by the statewide COVID-19 school closures. The school also has lost two teachers this school year, including one to COVID.
And they asked how any social distancing requirements can possibly be implemented while adding more children to the school.
Speakers and DOE officials also made a point of mentioning the former Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, which was offered to Success back in November and rejected.
“She just didn’t want it,” Charlene Smith said, without mentioning by name Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz.
Pressed on the subject later in the meeting, Goldmark acknowledged that the building proved to have serious deficiencies, including plumbing infrastructure, after the DOE recommended it to Success.
“We told them we could have it ready in August,” Goldmark said. “Then the engineers found things we couldn’t have seen in our walkthrough. ... It wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought it would be.” Goldmark also said time has become a factor.
“If this is not approved, we don’t know where these children will be going to school in the fall,” she said.
She also said under the state law, “which this mayor and the Department of Education did not support,” the city must provide money for a lease if it does not provide space.
“We’re spending $100 million on [leasing or renting space],” she said. “That would pay for a lot of teachers.”
During a brief statement, state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said he felt parents and students had been let down by both Success and the DOE.
Even if the one-year plan goes through, IS 238 would have many protections in place.
One teacher asked how time for shared spaces such as the auditorium and stage would be allocated, as the school has built up strong musical and theater programs.
The DOE said that such schedules typically are allocated based on student population, and that IS 238 would still have the larger group. New stage equipment paid for out of IS 238’s budget would remain the exclusive property of its students and staff.
Social distancing policies, as everywhere else in the school system, remain a work in progress.