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Canarsie closer to new charter school

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A proposal to establish a new charter school in Canarsie is moving forward.

Jim McCarthy, director of partnership relations for National Heritage Academies (NHA), told this paper that the organization filed an application for the Brooklyn Bay Charter School with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) to open the school in the now−vacant Holy Family School building, 9719 Flatlands Avenue.

Holy Family School was closed by the Diocese of Brooklyn at the end of this school year. The application was due by July 1st, said McCarthy, but was filed in mid−June.

Melody Meyer, a DOE spokesperson, said the school has proposed to start with classes in kindergarten through third grade, and approximately 200 students, growing gradually to a K−8 school.

Meyer said that, by law, a hearing on the proposal would be scheduled within 30 days of the July 1st application deadline. “Then we review the school,” Meyer went on. “Typically, in early fall, we make our recommendation to the (state) Board of Regents either to approve or not. Then, the Board of Regents votes, typically in the next month’s session. If the Regents approve, it would be cleared to open in September, 2010.”

The curriculum for the new school, McCarthy noted, would be, “Pretty traditional, aligned with the curriculum of New York State, and would mirror the curriculum that NHA uses throughout the country,” while, at the same time, being “neighborhood specific.”

The curriculum is designed, McCarthy added, so students at the school would be able to compete successfully on a nationwide level, not just with students at nearby schools. The key, he added, is readying the students to apply to college.

Tony Dandridge, the president of the District 18 Community Education Council (CEC), said that, from the CEC’s perspective, it was premature to discuss the proposal. “We’re not privy to that kind of information till after the application is processed and they decide they are going to pursue it,” he noted.

The CEC’s role, Dandridge added, is to make sure that parents get the information and can “make an informed decision” about the proposal.

As a parent, Dandridge said, he wouldn’t want to see this or any other charter school proposed for the district “share space or resources, because we’re already strapped, and principals are looking at cutbacks because they say their budgets have been stripped.”

While it is doing the paperwork, NHA, a for−profit company which operates 61 schools across the U.S., is not the developer of the proposed charter school at Holy Family, McCarthy said. Rather, he told this paper, the company, a charter management organization, has been hired by a group of applicants, headed up by attorney Kimberly Britton.

NHA runs the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant, and will operate the Brooklyn Scholars Charter School opening in East New York in September. In a phone interview, McCarthy cited the six−year−old Brooklyn Excelsior as a success story, pointing out that 95 percent of the school’s students had demonstrated proficiency on standardized math tests, and 87 percent of the school’s students had demonstrated proficiency on standardized English language arts exams.

Nonetheless, NHA’s forays into Brooklyn have not been completely positive. NHA was the organization chosen by the founders of the Brooklyn Dreams Charter School in Brooklyn’s District 20 to run its school, which succumbed to opposition from parents and educators, as well as the local Community Education Council (CEC). Brooklyn Dreams is now applying in District 21 and looking at a site in District 22. While published reports have suggested that some NHA schools teach creationism as a science, a co−lead applicant for Brooklyn Dreams has contended that the allegation is false.

Among other things, the District 20 CEC looked carefully at the Brooklyn Excelsior charter school when forging its position on Brooklyn Dreams. Among the CEC’s concerns was the fact that Excelsior had had three principals in three years, as well as the fact that its student population did not appear to mirror the larger district, with only 31 percent of the Excelsior student population eligible for free lunch, compared to 82 percent of the district’s student body.

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