Park Slope catches charter school fever

A group of Park Slope parents that is concerned about the dearth of good middle schools in the neighborhood is starting a charter school that will draw fifth graders from the Slope, Sunset Park and Gowanus.

If approved by the state, the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School will open in September, 2008 and will boast a 21st-century curriculum, its founders say.

“You talk to people in Park Slope, especially parents of kids in elementary school, and they’re panicked about … middle school,” said Luyen Chou, a co-founder, who has a daughter in elementary school, a son in pre-school, and is a long-time private school educator.

Chou met the school’s other co-founder, and its executive director, Dan Rubenstein, when they were studying at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Rubenstein now serves as the chair of the math department at Collegiate, a private school in Manhattan. He has dreamed of opening his own charter school for nearly a decade.

“I wanted to create a school, and do it the way I wanted to do it,” said Rubenstein.

“There’s all this building, and people moving to the neighborhood because they have kids, and they’re not building enough new schools.”

The Prospect Charter School will be open to all students in District 15 by lottery, raising to eight the number of middle schools in the district, which covers Park Slope, Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Red Hook.

“Parents have long complained about middle schools in District 15,” said Pamela Wheaton, the director of InsideSchools.org, a clearinghouse for information on New York City public schools.

Of the seven middle schools in District 15, only three — M.S. 51 on Fifth Avenue and Fourth Street; the Math and Science Exploratory school on Dean Street; and M.S. 88, on Seventh Avenue — have so-called “selective,” or honors, programs.

And only in M.S. 51 did more than 80 percent of students meet state standards for reading and math in 2006.

A charter school is a publicly funded independent school exempt from bureaucratic red tape.

As of September, the city’s Department of Education expects to have 60 charter schools. Even the United Federation of Teachers, a teachers’ union that often spars with the city, supports the concept of charter schools.

“As a matter of fact, we run two charter schools in Brooklyn,” said Ron Davis, a spokesman for the union.

Once the proposal is approved by the state — which Rubenstein hopes will happen this summer — the priority will be to find space.

Chou said they wish to avoid the brouhaha that ensued when the city tried to place an Arabic language and culture academy into an existing program, PS 282, in Park Slope.

“We’re hoping for something that could be central, so Gowanus is the ideal location, somewhere between Third and Fourth avenues,” said Rubenstein.

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School

Grades: 6–12

Grade size: 100 students

Location: Organizers are looking on the border of Gowanus, Sunset Park and Park Slope

Admissions: by lottery

Founders: Dan Rubenstein, chair of the Math Department of Collegiate; Luyen Chou, senior vice-president of SchoolNet, a developer of technologies to help improve school efficiency

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate program (an increasingly common alternative to Advanced Placement classes)