Power couple pushes for two more charters in Williamsburg

Power couple pushes for two more charters in Williamsburg
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

The Manhattan power couple behind a controversial plan to open a charter school in Williamsburg is hoping to launch two more charter schools in North Brooklyn.

Eric Grannis — whose wife, former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, is behind the proposed Success Academy Williamsburg — helped spearhead the effort to open two branches of the Los Angeles-based charter chain Citizens of the World Charter Schools in Williamsburg and Greenpoint next fall.

Grannis, who rallied parents to apply for state permission to open the school, believes Williamsburg could use more socioeconomically diverse education options — and he claims his two proposed elementary schools fit the bill.

“I think it’s a good idea for charter schools to intentionally try to get more integration both racially and economically,” said Grannis, who has sought support for his plan from neighborhood parents through his charter school-backing organization The Tapestry Project. “North Brooklyn is an area where this is very possible.”

Each Citizens of the World school would serve between 120 and 160 students in kindergarten and first grade beginning in 2013, and grow to house between 360 and 480 students from kindergarten to fifth grade by 2017, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

The charter network has not proposed specific locations, but claimed it would “involve the local community” to help secure space for its schools, according to a letter sent with its charter application to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute.

But some Williamsburg parents claim the new charter schools will not be racially or economically diverse since Grannis’s outreach has primarily occurred in the neighborhood’s more affluent Northside, according to the documents.

“We do not want public funds diverted to private hands to benefit the few, the white, the affluent — which is exactly the aim of Grannis’s two schools,” said parent Cynthia Walker. “That is obvious from their outreach.”

The applications come amid protests against his wife’s proposal to open a publicly funded, independently run charter housing 200 students inside the Southside’s struggling MS 50 on S. Third Street this fall.

Moskowitz, who already opened a Success Academy in Bedford Stuyvesant and plans to open another one in Cobble Hill, said Williamsburg is a “phenomenal community” and her school would serve “a wide range of ethnicities.”

But opponents of the charter plan including hundreds of parents, students, teachers, and community leaders rallied outside MS 50 during a hearing on the co-location last weekt, claiming her proposed school is targeting children in the gentrifying Northside rather than English language learners in the Southside.

“This is not the school we need and not the school our community has asked for,” said Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg).

Public school parents, who fear the charter could lead to the middle school’s demise, clashed with Success Academy supporters, many of whom traveled to the hearing on school buses from a Success location in Harlem.

Southside leaders privately confided that if Moskowitz opened her Success Academy in a school building on the neighborhood’s Northside and reached out more to Latino parents over the past year, they would more likely welcome the school to the community.

Moskowitz said the city chose the S. Third Street site because it had the space to accommodate a new school.

“If folks want another school, we could talk about that,” said Moskowitz. “Whenever I propose a charter school in a community, the community says they would be happy to have us somewhere else. There’s a fear of change and any new way of delivering education makes people nervous.”

A Department of Education panel will vote on the application on March 1.

And if the panel approves the bid, Williamsburg residents vowed to fight the city to reverse course.

“There’s no such thing as a done deal,” said Frances Lucerna of El Puente, a Williamsburg arts group that offers programs at MS 50. “Shame on the Department of Education for creating a divisive situation of parent against parent and student against student. We need to expand and enrich MS 50.”

Reach reporter Aaron Short at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2547.

Parents and students from MS 50 railed against the city’s plan to co-locate a Success Academy charter school inside their S. Third Street middle school building.
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short