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DOE floats arts plan for I.S. 278

The Department of Education is extending an olive branch to angry Marine Park residents — but parents aren’t interested.

In the hope of earning the community’s support for the DOE’s plan to house a Hebrew−themed charter school in I.S. 278 Marine Park Junior High School at 1925 Stuart Street, DOE officials agreed to meet residents’ demands, sort of.

According to the plan as explained by John White, chief operating officer of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Development, the Hebrew Language Academy (HLA) would open in I.S. 278 this September. During that school year, I.S. 278’s administration would work with the DOE to create a new small high school catering to the performing arts, which would open in I.S. 278 in fall 2010. By June 2011, HLA would relocate to its own private facility and the small performing arts high school would remain at I.S. 278.

Now for the catch. I.S. 278’s students would have to apply for the small performing arts high school — and only some would be accepted.

What Marine Park residents want is for I.S. 278 to expand so all students in grades six to eight can remain for grades nine to 12.

“We have twice been rejected for a performing arts high school because we do not have enough room −− but now we have enough room for a charter school?” said Dr. Mardie Sheiken−Henry, whose daughter attends the sixth grade at I.S. 278.

The DOE says it’s a matter of math. Currently, I.S. 278 has 55 classrooms. Next year, it will have 38 sections of students. That leaves 17 open classrooms − not enough for a full expansion.

“That school doesn’t have the space for 2,000 kids,” White said at last week’s town hall at the Kings Bay Y on Nostrand Avenue.

With the small performing arts high school, even if it can’t accommodate all of I.S. 278’s students, the DOE’s position seems to be −− something’s better than nothing.

But, not so, say residents.

Marine Park Civic President Greg Borruso accused the DOE of saying, “We’ll give you what you want but you have to have this also.”

Residents wondered if HLA would, in fact, relocate after two years at I.S. 278.

HLA must sign a “memorandum of understanding that the school is not in [I.S. 278] anymore after two years,” White said. “That would be the end of it because the high school would be taking the space.”

HLA — which is backed by Michael Steinhardt, chair of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and owner of the defunct New York Sun — plans to purchase its own building. If a purchase is not made by June 2011, the DOE would tell the school, "You'd better now lease the space," White said.

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