The city is backtracking on its plan to wedge a charter school inside a half-full Red Hook school, now saying that it is searching for another site for the newcomer academy.
The announcement came after parents, teachers and even the widow of the beloved former principal of PS 15, an elementary school on Sullivan Street, were outraged that they would have to cede classrooms to the PAVE Academy.
In case a different location isn’t found, Department of Education will meet with school officials and community leaders to gain acceptance for PAVE, which might still land in PS 15.
Councilmember Sara Gonzalez (D–Red Hook) said she brokered the delay with city officials.
“Initially, the DOE presented this as a fait accompli,” said Michael Schweinsburg, spokesman for Gonzalez. “Now they’ve stepped back from an entrenched position. That’s important.
Teachers say this is a good step.
“It looks like they’re trying to correct the way they went about things,” said one teacher requesting anonymity.
Parents don’t want the charter school in PS 15 because they say the loss of space jeopardizes the “A” grade that the school just earned on its city report card.
“The kids are going to lose out on a lot of the things they have now,” said Vicki LaSalle, a parent who was gathering signatures on her anti-charter school petition last week.
School Principal Peggy Wyns-Madison echoed that concern last week, telling parents that the charter school could increase class size — and small class size was one of the main reasons for the school’s success on the report card, she added.
But the city says the concern about class size is not valid. PS 15 — also known as the Daly School, in memory of its slain principal Patrick Daly — is only 54 percent full and has declining enrollment.
The Department of Education says such statistics indicate that there’s room for the 88-student PAVE Academy to take over four classrooms and one administrative room in September — and then two more classrooms in 2009.
In 2010, the PAVE Academy is expected to get its own facility elsewhere.
“We expect there to be no effect on class size” at PS 15, said Melody Meyer, a DOE spokeswoman.
The class size might stay the same, but the loss of space is still a burden, teachers said.
Currently, students go to different rooms for different subjects like math and social studies, giving teachers free time and a quiet space for prep work. They’ll lose that downtime in a shared school.
“The teachers are pretty much in an uproar,” said one teacher, who requested anonymity. “We have a lot of things to do in our prep time, grading papers, talking to colleagues, straightening the room.”
Sharing the building with the new charter school for two years might be an inconvenience to PS 15’s teachers, but the city says it’s a benefit for Red Hook families.
“The proposal gives families in Red Hook two great schools to choose from where they previously had one school,” Meyer told The Brooklyn Paper.
The debate over this charter school is a faint echo of last year’s boisterous battle over siting the Khalil Gibran International Academy — the city’s first Arabic language and culture school — in a Park Slope middle school. At the time, parents complained that their under-capacity school also did not have the space to accommodate a new middle school.
Parents in that battle prevailed, and the Gibran Academy was eventually housed in a Boerum Hill middle- and high-school complex. Parents and educators there accepted the Gibran Academy after the city agreed to provide some long-sought amenities — a bit of horsetrading that may be happening now at PS 15.
The PAVE Academy — the name stands for Perseverance, Achievement, Vibrance and Excellent Character — will start with just a kindergarten and a first grade in 2008, but will eventually be a K-8 school.
Last week, even Daly’s widow jumped into the debate, telling the Daily News that she did not think her husband would want the school that bears his name to be altered.
“When the school was down and out, the only person who cared about it was my husband,” Madeline Daly told the News. “He was a hands-on person. He was responsible for the school. I don’t think he would be too happy to share it.”
Daly was killed in a crossfire between two drug gangs 15 years ago.
But PAVE Academy founder Spencer Robertson sought common ground with the murdered educator’s legacy.
“My belief is that as an educator, he would want to see the school that now bears his name providing an outstanding education to as many children as possible,” Robertson said in a statement.