DOE looks for Hebrew home

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While three local intermediate schools are being looked at by the Department of Education (DOE) as possible sites to house a new charter school on a temporary basis, there are indications that one of them is the agency’s hands-down favorite.

Christopher Spinelli, the president of the District 22 Community Education Council (CEC), said that he had been told by a DOE executive that Marine Park Junior High School, I.S. 278; Roy H. Mann Junior High School, I.S. 78; and Shell Bank Intermediate School, I.S. 14, are all being considered as short-term homes for the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, which will open in September.

However, City Councilmember Lewis Fidler, said that, while DOE may be looking at three schools, he had “met with the charter school, and they don’t appear to be looking at the other schools. They are looking at 278.

“I think DOE knows exactly what it wants,” Fidler went on. “I can read DOE tea leaves pretty well, and I’m afraid DOE has made their decision and I think they intend to send the school to 278. Since we in the community have different plans for 278, that makes us unhappy. It makes me unhappy, and I’m prepared to do whatever I can do to see it doesn’t happen.”

The move into a public school building, however short-term, appears to go against statements made by the charter school’s founders, who had previously assured the community, during a public hearing, that they did not intend to take space from any public school, Spinelli recalled,

However, Spinelli -- who told this paper, ”I don’t like the idea of moving a charter school into any of our schools; I think it kind of distracts from the great public schools we already have in District 22” -- said that he had recently been told that the school was looking at public school space because the school’s own space “won’t be ready for the next two years.”

None of the district’s elementary schools were in the running because of overcrowding, Spinelli added, but he said that DOE had  determined that the intermediate schools in question did have space. Though, “How much space is up to debate,” Spinelli stressed.

So far, the Marine Park community doesn’t appear to be cottoning to the idea of the school moving in to their junior high school, even temporarily. “I know the school community and the neighborhood are not in favor,” confirmed one source at the school who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One sticking point is the fact that the I.S. 278 community had asked that 278 be transformed into a grade six-through-12 school with a focus on performing arts, and had been turned down by DOE for lack of space. “There’s an absolute need for that in the neighborho­od,” the source said. “They’re telling us we don’t have enough space to go six-to-12 but we have enough space to put in the other school.”

Another issue, the insider said, is concern about having young children in a school for adolescents and young teens. “How safe is that?” the source asked.

Those opposed to the idea of locating the charter school at 278 have timing in their favor. “We have a unique moment of leverage at the state level now,” Fidler stressed, thanks to the fact that the state legislature must vote shortly on reauthorizing mayoral control of the city’s schools, which otherwise will end in June. Fidler said he was “hoping” that state legislators who represent the area would be “able to convince DOE that this is not the right place and not the right plan.”

I.S. 14 is located at 2424 Batchelder Street. I.S. 78 is at 1420 East 68th Street. I.S. 278 is at 1925 Stuart Street.

The DOE did not respond to a call requesting comment.

Updated 3:31 pm, October 19, 2011
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