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‘Dreams’ die in Brooklyn - Controversial charter school proposal put on the shelf

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A controversial proposal to open a new charter school is off the table – for now.

The team behind the proposed Brooklyn Dreams Charter School withdrew its application to open the school in September 2009 within School District 20, which spans Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton and Borough Park.

“We withdrew from consideration for 2009 and we’ve asked to be considered for 2010 because we realized that without having a location for the school, we could not have been ready for 2009,” said co-lead applicant William Girasole, the owner of Girasole Real Estate in Dyker Heights.

Girasole and co-lead applicant Dick Conti, who is Xaverian High School’s chief financial officer (CFO), are currently in talks to acquire a building big enough to house a kindergarten through eighth grade school. He would not reveal the site’s location because of an ongoing negotiation.

At a public hearing in August, Girasole and Conti said they were considering constructing a new building on one of two vacant lots – one near Victory Memorial Hospital and another on New Utrecht Avenue “in the 70s.”

Girasole said he will meet with the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter School Institute in November to seek approval for a 2010 opening. If granted, the application will be sent to the state Board of Regents for final approval.

Since the Brooklyn Dreams proposal was made public, the school has faced criticism that it would promote Catholicism. That’s because the school’s board of directors would include employees of local Catholic schools, including the president of Xaverian High School on Shore Road.

Even more problematic, the company selected to run the school, National Heritage Academies, has come under fire. According to published reports, some of the company’s schools have opted to teach creationism as a scientific theory.

At the public hearing in August, Ellen Driesen, School District 20’s United Federation of Teacher’s (UFT) representative, asserted that National Heritage “supports a Christian education” and “does not have a history of abiding by [separation of church and state laws].”

Girasole dismisses such statements.

“We are a public school,” he said. “We are not a Catholic school. We do not teach creationism. We don’t teach any type of religion. We aren’t anything but a public school.”

Brooklyn Dreams’ critics are discouraged that the school is still under consideration.

“It’s disappointing news to say the least because in all honesty, I don’t see people’s viewpoints changing on the subject,” said Laurie Windsor, president of District 20’s Community Education Council (CEC).

“This district doesn’t need a charter school now and it won’t need one in 2010,” said City Councilmember Vincent Gentile. “The quality of education in District 20 isn’t lacking – we have some of the top public schools in the entire city. A charter school could also threaten our local parochial schools, which play an important role in this community.”

There are fears that parents will remove their children from parochial schools, which cost thousands of dollars a year in tuition, for the free Brooklyn Dreams because of the perception that the school could be sympathetic to Catholic beliefs.

Gentile has said that parochial schools, many of which have already closed due to poor enrollment, “may not be viable if this goes forward.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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