A new charter school run by a team of former corporate honchos wants to take public school space from the city in order to serve Park Slope middle schoolers — prompting mixed emotions from parents who are happy to see more school options, but hate the idea of privatized public education.
Founders of Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School — which goes by the acronym “BUGS” — says the public, 300-student, science-focused school will serve sixth to eighth graders in District 15 as early as next fall, although it has not yet secured a location.
“[BUGS] will be a vibrant learning community dedicated to stewardship of the environment,” notes the school’s brochure. “We aim to provide [the district] with a high-quality, innovative middle school option to reduce overcrowding.”
It also notes the school is “a community-based project” instead of a controversial “charter management group” — where charter leaders are accused of making six-figure salaries while taking up rent-free space at city public schools.
The Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School may claim to be neighborhood friendly, but the resumes of its founding team members tell a different story: the majority of them have held positions as corporate executives at companies including Ford Financial, Deutsche Bank and Barclays Capital. Many have more experience in the corporate world than with public education.
It’s one indication they are more than simple, community do-gooders: They are business-savvy executives with much to gain from rent-free public school space, some parents charge.
“We want good, community based-public schools — not privatized new ones,” said Park Slope mom and activist Gloria Mattera. “Buy your own building.”
Public charter schools pick students via lottery and offer a more flexible curriculum than district schools. Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School students, for example, will spend more time outside planting, designing gardens and studying nature.
But creative curriculum and high test scores have not stopped charter schools from igniting fiery fights in the district, like in the case of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network, which hundreds of Cobble Hill parents and teachers rallied against at a recent Department of Education hearing.
Many parents are against putting charter schools into operating school buildings, claiming that it takes away classrooms from public school children and forces everyone to compete for shared gym, library and cafeteria space.
Yet Mark Kolman — a member of the of the District 15 Community Education Council who has opposed inappropriate charter co-locations in the past — said the Brooklyn Urban Charter School would likely be good for the area.
“I don’t see it hurting anything at this point; the neighborhood needs more middle schools,” he said. “But it is certainly a business.”
A fast-paced business, it seems: Brooklyn Urban Charter School co-founder Susan Tenner — a former executive at Intel — did not have time to talk about the school when we reached her, noting via e-mail, “I have back-to-back meetings right now.”
Co-founder Miriam Nunberg, a lawyer — and one of the few founders who has worked as a teacher — did not respond to calls and e-mails.
Department of Education officials noted the school’s co-location is, by no means, a done deal.
“We are in discussion with the school to identify what their needs are and whether we would be able to find them an appropriate space,” said spokesman Frank Thomas.
Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.