New schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott says he’ll do nothing to stop a growing charter school from moving into a Coney Island school building that already houses a junior high school and a high school.
According to Walcott, plans to move Coney Island Prep charter school into the public school facility on West Avenue and W. Fifth Street, which both IS 303 and Rachel Carson HS already share, will move forward despite complaints by parents that the building is already overcrowded.
“We have a responsibility to do make sure these buildings are utilized properly,” Walcott said at a question and answer session in Sheepshead Bay Thursday evening. “And I’ll be there with my sleeves rolled up to make sure all the schools continue to do well.”
But Walcott’s promise to make the charter’s move successful didn’t sit well with the crowd at the District 21 Community Education Council meeting, held in the Bay Academy’s auditorium on Emmons Avenue near E. 14th Street.
“He didn’t address many of our issues, like if class sizes will increase because we’re losing rooms to the charter school,” said Elliot Wofsey, a parent from IS 303, which has been protesting the city-planned placement of Coney Island Prep for the past two months.
At the heart of their concerns is that the school will lose its self-containment classes, a program that keeps students in their home room throughout the day instead of moving from class to class like most junior high kids. The school’s parents and staff say that the arrangement paved the way for the once-floundering school to earn As and Bs on its progress reports last year. The city insists that the added school won’t jeopardize the self-containment model, but the public school’s advocates fear that the program won’t survive if IS 303 is forced to give up 11 classrooms to 350 Coney Island Prep students.
“I’m skeptical that we’ll actually be able to keep the self-containment classes,” said IS 303 PTA President Julia Danlely.
The city has been looking for a new home for Coney Island Prep, which outgrew its space inside the Carey Gardens Community Center on Surf Avenue near W. 23rd Street, since February. That month, the city killed a plan to move it to either PS 188 on Neptune Avenue or PS 329 on 30th Avenue after staff at those schools protested that their buildings couldn’t handle the influx. The current proposal would house the charter in the West Avenue facility for two years until the school, which plans to teach about 550 students in grades five through 12 within six years, gets a permanent home.
The city is set to vote on the plan on April 28, but Walcott’s pre-vote approval of the move is a victory for Coney Island Prep principal Jacob Mnookin, who never lost faith that his school would find a new home, despite public schools’ opposition.
“I think it’s great,” Mnookin said. “The chancellor clearly understands all the challenges involved.”