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Marty won’t give up on Dreams - State Senator backs controversial charter school

A local elected official backs a controversial charter school proposal in spite of parents’ opposition.

State Senator Marty Golden sent a letter to the city Department of Education (DOE) voicing his support of a proposal to create the Brooklyn Dreams Charter School. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the DOE and state Board of Regents.

“The board of Brooklyn Dreams is made up of individuals who have been active in this community for many years and who have displayed in the past a dedication to serving the best interests of the area, especially the children of this area,” Golden wrote.

The lead applicants of the school are William Girasole, the owner of Girasole Real Estate in Dyker Heights, and Dick Conti, chief financial officer (CFO) for Xaverian High School on Shore Road. They pitched the same Brooklyn Dreams proposal to the DOE four years ago but were rejected.

The school’s board of directors would include employees of local Catholic schools, including the president of Xaverian.

That’s brought accusations that Brooklyn Dreams would promote or be sympathetic to Catholicism. Fueling the fire is 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.

According to National Heritage’s Web site, its charter schools maintain a “moral focus curriculum” teaching students “to respect their classmates, to make smart decisions and to resolve disputes in a manner that displays strong character.”

In his letter, Golden expressed support for National Heritage Academies.

“The school will be run by a group, National Heritage Academies, that has an established track record of delivering high-quality education to students who need it the most,” he wrote.

At a public hearing about Brooklyn Dreams last month, educators challenged the selection of National Heritage Academies.

National Heritage “supports a Christian education,” asserted Ellen Driesen, School District 20’s United Federation of Teacher’s (UFT) representative.

Although charter schools must follow separation of church and state laws, “National Heritage does not have a history of abiding by that,” Driesen charged.

“I feel that this is going to be a mini Catholic school,” June Johnson, a retired school secretary, said of Brooklyn Dreams.

Girasole argued, “We’re not zealots here who want to fool you and say this is a public school when this is a Catholic school. This is a public school.”

Golden’s letter comes on the heels of School District 20’s Community Education Council (CEC) sending its own letter to the DOE criticizing the Brooklyn Dreams proposal.

“We have come to the conclusion that a charter school is unnecessary in District 20,” the CEC wrote. “District 20 is among the highest performing districts in New York City. The district does not need ‘alternatives’ or ‘options’ to the status quo as some failing districts in the city need…We believe there are other districts in Brooklyn, some very near to District 20, that are better candidates for a charter school.”

The letter continued, “We are skeptical of a group of businessmen, and not educators, who have tried twice before to get a charter under different names and were denied.”

The CEC encouraged the DOE and Board of Regents to reject the Brooklyn Dreams proposal.

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