Success charter eyes Spanish-speaking students, amid controversy

Some W’burg parents don’t want ‘Success’ in their schools
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A controversial charter school slated to open in Williamsburg this fall guarantees that one in five of its students will be English language learners — but school opponents in the neighborhood’s Latino Southside say that ratio is too low.

Success Charter Network will set aside 20 percent of its enrollment for students who don’t speak English as a primary language, a number its backers claim is higher than the citywide average of 15 percent and in line with schools in its district, where 12.5 percent of kids don’t speak English at home.

“We’re doing this as a way to increase access for English language learners,” said Success spokesman Stefan Friedman, whose organization asked the Department of Education to alter the school’s charter to include the number on Monday night.

But Williamsburg community leaders fear the language minimum will become a quota — allowing the charter to appease city enrollment requirements by maintaining a student body of 20 percent English language learners, no matter what demographic changes occur in the neighborhood.

“This is a minimum standard,” said Luis Garden Acosta, head of Williamsburg arts organization El Puente. “A high percentage of children in this district do not speak English. If you want to be responsive to the community, particularly new immigrants coming to the neighborhood, then you should not set a baseline standard.”

So far, one-third of the school’s 700 applicants speak languages other than English, including Spanish, Mandarin, and Polish. Success officials insist the S. Third Street grade school will give a preference to language learners from Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick before considering students outside of North Brooklyn.

But that doesn’t appease some neighborhood parents, who have long charged that the charter group is not recruiting enough Spanish families in the area around the school, where Latinos make up 65 percent of the population, according to 2010 Census data.

“They’re trying to poach middle-class and wealthy students in Williamsburg,” said Williamsburg parent Brooke Parker. “They want to shift their focus to the middle class, but these charter schools do not appeal to the middle class.”

Success Charter Network gained city approval for its Williamsburg facility on March 1, and plans to open the kindergarten and first grade programs in the JHS 50 building this fall.

Neighborhood parents sued the charter organization, the city, and the state in an attempt to block the school for failing to conduct enough outreach in Williamsburg’s Southside and claiming the school has the backing of the community.

Success has continued to recruit parents of school-age children in Williamsburg this month in advance of the citywide enrollment application deadline on April 1.

Former Manhattan Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz's planned charter school in Williamsburg will reserve 20 percent of its seats for students who are learning English.