The school year is now in session and so are several new charter schools.
The city Department of Education (DOE) opened 18 charter schools on September 2, the first day of school.
Five are located in Brooklyn – PAVE Academy Charter School in Red Hook, Achievement First Brownsville Charter School, Brooklyn Ascend Charter School in Brownsville, Collegiate Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and La Cima Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
There are now 78 charter schools operating in New York City.
Charter schools, which receive public and private funding, are similar to the small school format but are held to different accountability standards than traditional public schools.
As per regulations, when the state approves a new charter school, the school agrees to meet specific student achievement standards. Five years later, if those standards are met, the charter is renewed and the school remains open. If not, the school is closed.
Charter school supporters say the schools offer small learning environments and better prepare students for standardized exams and college. Opponents say they are mini private schools selecting the brightest students and operating under little day-to-day supervision from city and state officials.
There have also been concerns about the locations of charter schools.
In some cases, new charter schools find their own homes in private buildings. But in other instances, existing public schools are asked to relinquish several classrooms so a new charter school can move in. Those situations fueled heated battles between angry parents and DOE officials.
That was evident earlier this year when parents learned that the DOE wanted to house PAVE Academy Charter School in P.S. 15’s building at 71 Sullivan Street.
As was the case with other space-sharing arrangements, the DOE said the two schools could occupy one building because P.S. 15 was underutilized. But parents said P.S. 15 would suffer under the arrangement and even the school’s principal expressed concern about maintaining small class size.
After a public hearing, the DOE ultimately approved the space-sharing plan in spite of parents’ protests.
The DOE and state Board of Regents are currently reviewing approximately 25 proposals to open new charter schools in 2009.
Among those are several proposals for new Brooklyn schools.
That includes the Fahari Academy Charter School within the confines of Community District 17, which encompasses Flatbush, Rugby and Farragut. The designers of the school say it would promote “perseverance, respect, independence, discipline and excellence (PRIDE).”
In School District 18, which spans East Flatbush and Canarsie, there are proposals to open Explore Charter School II and New Hope Academy Charter School, which would spend its first two years at Nazareth Regional High School, a Catholic school at 475 East 57th Street, according to New Hope’s planning team.
One of the most controversial proposals on the table is for a Hebrew-themed charter school in School District 22, which encompasses Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay. Parents have expressed concern about the school’s curriculum but the school’s designers insist that religion would not be taught.
Also causing controversy is the Brooklyn Dreams Charter School proposed for School District 20, which includes Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton and Borough Park.
Critics fear Brooklyn Dreams would promote Catholicism since the school’s planned board of directors would include employees of local Catholic schools. Also, there’s questions about the company selected to run the school – National Heritage Academies. According to published reports, some of the company’s schools have opted to teach creationism as a scientific theory.
William Girasole, co-lead applicant for Brooklyn Dreams, has said, “It is not a private school. It is not a Catholic school. It is truly a public school.”