Today’s news:

It’s back-to-school time!

When your children head back to school next month, they’ll be in store for some big changes. New schools are opening, existing schools are expanding, and charter schools are on the rise.

District 21

Coney Island and Bensonhurst

For the first time in 71 years, Lafayette HS will not welcome students this September.

The troubled school, once dubbed “Horror High” due to a high crime rate and violent fights between students, closed in June. The Education Department cited low test scores and poor student achievement as its reasons for closing the school.

But Lafayette’s teachers say the school went downhill because popular programs were eliminated, which resulted in a decline in enrollment.

“The real problem was that a lot of the programs were decimated because of funding cuts — engineering, nursing and cosmetology,” said Richard Mangone, who taught social studies at Lafayette for 20 years. “Still, it was sad to see Lafayette close.”

The school building, on Benson Avenue between Bay 43rd Street and 27th Avenue in Bath Beach, has been renamed the Lafayette Educational Campus. It is now home to these small schools: the Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders, High School of Sports Management, International High School at Lafayette, and Life Academy High School for Film and Music.

Each of these schools has its own principal, its own teaching staff selected by that principal, and allocated classrooms in the building. The schools work together on building-wide issues, such as emergencies and maintaining the security of entrances.

Also around the district:

• Elementary schools may soon be revamped.

Parents are now working with the Education Department to redraw zoning lines in hope of decreasing the number of students eligible for admission to overcrowded schools, such as PS 101 on Benson Avenue between 24th Avenue and Bay 35th Street in Bath Beach, and PS 97 on Stillwell Avenue between Avenue S and Highlawn Avenue in Gravesend.

“We’ve had preliminary meetings with the District 21 Community Education Council to discuss rezoning options that would reduce overcrowding in the community,” Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, Education Department spokesman said.

District 22

Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay

A controversial charter school is finally opening.

The Brooklyn Dreams Charter School, which previously searched for a home in Districts 20 and 21, but faced tough criticism from parents and educators, is taking over the St. Rose of Lima School building on Parkville Avenue between Ocean Parkway and E. Eighth Street in Flatbush. Education officials initially denied the proposal to open because officials wanted Brooklyn Dreams to provide more details about how the school would ensure student achievement over a multi-year period.

Parents and educators fear that the charter school, which is a public school accepting public and private monies and free of daily supervision from the Education Department, would attract top-performing students from existing schools. This would create a ripple effect and result in a decline in student achievement at existing schools, said Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s Community Education Council.

“They draw the talent pool away from local schools because there’s a feeling among many parents that you’re getting a private school education for free,” Spinelli said. “It’s not that I don’t want parents to have a choice, but things like smaller class size, individualized attention and excellent academics are already offered in District 22 schools.”

Nearby schools will suffer if they lose students to Brooklyn Dreams. That’s because the city funds schools based on the number of students enrolled — more kids mean more money.

“The money funds a lot of wonderful academic and enrichment programs — music, art and theater,” Patrick Thornton, who has a child at PS 217 on Newkirk Avenue between Coney Island Avenue and Westminster Road, has said. “When you lose funding, the first things that go are all those additional programs.”

There were also concerns because the for-profit organization managing Brooklyn Dreams, National Heritage Academies, has reportedly taught creationism as a scientific theory.

Brooklyn Dreams’ founder, William Girasole, who did not respond for comment for this story, has insisted that the school will follow the state curriculum mandated for all public schools — and will not teach creationism.

“It is not a private school,” Girasole has said. “It is not a Catholic school. It is truly a public school.”

According to Brooklyn Dreams’ website, the school will maintain a “moral focus” based on “human virtues, such as compassion, respect, and integrity.”

The Education Department and state Board of Regents approved Brooklyn Dreams’ application after a series of public hearings. As a public school, Brooklyn Dreams may not teach religion and there is no mention of a religious focus on the school’s website.

The school will undergo an extensive review in five years to determine if the state will allow it to remain open.

Also around the district:

• A proposal for an alternative high school focusing on sports, health and fitness will be presented at the Community Education Council’s Sept. 2 meeting.

According to its application, the Urban Dove Charter School is seeking to open in Floyd Bennett Field, located at Flatbush Avenue and Aviation Road in Marine Park. The school’s proposal to open in fall 2011 must be approved by the state Board of Regents.

District 18

Canarsie and East Flatbush

The Science and Medicine Middle School, which opened in a new building on E. 107th Street between Flatlands Avenue and Avenue J with a sixth-grade class last year, will have its first seventh-grade class this fall. An eighth-grade class will be added next fall.

The middle school has been well received by parents, but the East Brooklyn Community HS sharing the building has come under fire. Parents hoped the transfer high school, which provides an alternative learning environment for students who struggled in traditional classroom settings, would vacate the building in June because they feared teens would pick on the middle school students.

But the school is staying for at least one more year — and that has angered the district’s Community Education Council, a parents group representing Canarsie and East Flatbush.

“This is an issue because the council thought it was going to be a one-year deal,” said James Dandridge, the group’s president. “There was an outcry from the community about this from the beginning. Parents were concerned about having younger kids mixing with older children. The resolution was to have separate entrances for the schools, and so far, it has been incident free. We hope to keep it that way so we’re really keeping our eye on these schools as they expand.”

The schools’ first year may have been free of violence, but Dandridge fears that will change as the schools add an additional grade and more students this fall.

“There weren’t that many students in the building last year,” Dandridge said. “As the schools expand, there will be more students and more opportunities for [violent] incidents.”

The Education Department has no immediate plans to relocate East Brooklyn Community HS, said agency spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.

“We believe the current arrangement makes the most sense,” he said.

Also around the district:

Four schools will welcome new principals this fall.

Following Joel Rubenfield’s retirement, Lucille Jackson is the new principal of PS 66 on E. 96th Street between Avenue D and Foster Avenue in E. Flatbush.

Mitchell Pinsky has retired from PS 115 on E. 92nd Street between Avenues L and M in Canarsie. Dennis Guerin is the interim acting principal.

Retiring this September are Mosezetta Overby of PS 268 on East 53rd Street between Clarkson Avenue and Winthrop Street in East Flatbush, and Penny Grinage of PS 135 on Linden Boulevard between East 48th Street and Schenectady Avenue in Flatbush. The principal interview and approval process is in the final stages for both schools.

District 20

Bay Ridge, Borough Park and part of Bensonhurst

Three new schools will open in Bay Ridge this fall — and provide much-needed relief to the district’s overcrowded schools.

The new building on Fourth Avenue between 62nd and 63rd streets will house two new kindergarten-to-fifth grade schools — PS 971 and PS 310, which will move to its own building at 60th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway in two years.

Since the school building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 89th Street remains under construction and won’t be ready until 2012, PS 264 will occupy classroom space in the District 20 office on 89th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. In 2002, part of the building was converted to classroom space, which was utilized by overcrowded schools, including PS/IS 104 on Fifth Avenue at 91st Street and PS 185 on Ridge Boulevard at 86th Street.

The district was rezoned so the new schools opening this fall will accept students who would have attended nearby overcrowded schools, including PS 69 at on Ninth Avenue at 63rd Street; PS 105 on 59th Street at 10th Avenue; PS/IS 104; and PS 185. All of these schools were between 127 percent and 149 percent capacity during the 2008-2009 school year, which is the most recent city data.

“With these new schools, we’re hoping to have relief from overcrowding throughout the district,” said Laurie Windsor, president of District 20’s Community Education Council.

Also around the district:

• IS 259, the William McKinley School, is opening a new 400-seat annex in its schoolyard.

The extra space is sorely needed since McKinley, located on Fort Hamilton Parkway between Bay Ridge Parkway and 73rd Street in Bay Ridge, was at 132 percent capacity during the 2008-2009 school year.

“They’re so overcrowded it’s not even funny,” Windsor said.

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