Over at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, students learn in a building that houses nearly 4,500 kids and operates at 160 percent capacity. It had been at 200 percent before a new annex with 555 seats opened this year. It’s a top-notch school kids are desperate to get into no matter how crowded the halls are.
Down at the Springfield Gardens Educational Complex, which houses four high schools, enrollment declined for five years, dropping 23 percent, until this year, when it started rising again. Even so, the school building is operating at 69 percent capacity, with 1,638 students attending instead of the 2,376 who could be learning there.
Now there’s a school eager to occupy some, though not all, of the space that’s available. Another highly effective school that, like Francis Lewis, gets more applicants than it can admit. One that could hit the ground running. That school is Success Academy. But Success means resistance.
The SGEC is one of two buildings in Southeast Queens where Success Academy seeks a co-location. The other is the building housing three schools including MS 72, the Catherine and Count Basie Middle School, in Rochdale Village. Together those three are at 46.5 percent capacity, with 623 students in a building that could handle 1,340.
Both schools say they don’t have room for Success Academy. Yeah, right. What they don’t have room for is the model of high-grade education Success offers: innovative, dynamic and unencumbered by many of the strictures and, especially, union regulations of traditional city schools.
The results of Success Academy’s approach as the city’s premier charter school system are crystal clear. At Success schools in Southeast Queens, the share of students passing the 2022 English language arts state exams ranged from 65.3 to 84.5 percent. For area district schools, the average numbers were 43.7 to 45.7 percent. In math, Success students passed at rates of 74 to 93 percent. In district schools, the numbers were 29 to 45 percent. Success also offers rich arts programming and more. No wonder its four elementary schools in Queens received 9,644 applications for this school year, when all they could provide were 487 seats. That’s about 20 children applying for every single spot.
Meanwhile enrollment in Districts 27, 28 and 29, those serving Southeast Queens, dropped by 10,049 students, or 8.7 percent, from the 2017-18 academic year to 2021-22. Families are doing all they can to get their children into charters, or parochial schools — or maybe just to move.
Yet the administrations at the SGEC and Basie campuses don’t want Success moving in. Co-location would harm their programs, they say without evidence. There’s no room, they claim, despite being under capacity. And, they say, it’s not good to co-locate an elementary school into a middle school or high school, which is what Success is looking to do. We agree that students of such differing ages should not be mixing at school but are confident that problem can be avoided with logistical and structural measures, as elsewhere.
The fact is Success Academy has been exactly what its name says it is. It’s a great vehicle for kids who come from tough neighborhoods but have a drive to learn. Critics point to all kinds of supposed flaws, from its selectivity to the fact its leadership gets paid, but they’re all exaggerated. Plenty of traditional city schools also are selective, and plenty of Department of Education employees are well-paid. Chancellor David Banks makes more than $360,000.
Hearings on the co-locations will be held Dec. 19 and 20, with the Panel for Educational Policy voting Jan. 5. We hope for a yes on both, so that more children can benefit from what Success Academy charter schools have to offer.