October 7, 2011
Parents in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood say they’re happy with their children’s schools but wouldn’t mind seeing a charter school move in.
Charter school operator Eva Moskowitz yesterday announced plans to open a new school in the Success Charter Network in Cobble Hill, an affluent, tree-lined neighborhood whose public schools are flush with parent involvement and, in some cases, parent donations. It would be Moskowitz’s second foray into a middle-class neighborhood after pushing through a contentious plan to open a school on the Upper West Side this year.
In District 15, Cobble Hill’s district, 1,500 parents signed a petition supporting the charter school’s bid to open, according to a press release from Success Charter Network.
But parents I spoke to today at a coffee shop and housing project in the neighborhood said they hadn’t heard of Moskowitz and weren’t aware that space-sharing was a likely scenario — or that co-location fights can turn ugly.
Still, they said that the neighborhood could use more school options, no matter what they are.
“If there’s a good school set up in the neighborhood and has a program my kid would like, I’d consider it,” said Madely Rodriguez, a P.S. 29 parent who was sipping coffee outside Cafe Pedlar, a magnet for neighborhood parents after morning drop-off.
Rodriguez said she thought that some of the neighborhood’s middle-class families would be attracted to a school that draws children from a variety of backgrounds. State law indicates that charter schools should serve needy students.
“At the end of the day it might be all talk, but I think there a lot of families that value diversity,” she said.
Moskowitz’s Upper West Side school gives admissions preference to students zoned for the district’s lowest-scoring elementary schools. But for that school, Moskowitz also made a point of cultivating affluent families, with sushi and wine information sessions and fliers targeting parents who expect to pay college tuition. The former city councilwoman’s motivation seems to be to prove that demand for choices beyond the district offerings extends beyond poor communities — and, perhaps, to grow political support for charter schools.
P.S. 29, the only public school that is technically located in Cobble Hill, has mostly white students and is famous for soliciting sizable donations from parents. Just over the border in Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens, two other elementary schools, P.S. 261 and P.S. 58, also serve largely middle-class populations. But District 15, which includes much of Brownstone Brooklyn, also includes several struggling schools that often serve students living in public housing — including in the Gowanus Houses, just over the neighborhood border from Cobble Hill.
Of the district’s three existing charter schools, two share space in Red Hook and mostly enroll residents of the housing projects there. A third, Brooklyn Prospect, is building its own space in Gowanus.
A school crossing guard working at the Gowanus Houses said she knew parents there were already looking for charter schools because PAVE Academy, which opened in 2010 after a protracted battle in Red Hook, picks up students from the housing project daily.
Blanca and Carmen Soltero, two sisters who grew up in the Gowanus Houses and still send their children to schools in the area, said families living in public housing would have to be educated about the new option and how to enroll. The new school could promote itself at resident meetings and would have to appeal to Spanish-speakers and elderly grandparents, they agreed.
If those efforts aren’t made, Carmen Soltero warned, there is a chance that the new school will serve mostly middle-class families, just like the other schools in the neighborhood increasingly do.
But the bigger question for parents I spoke to was not whether a charter school should move in but where it should go.
Parents at Cafe Pedlar and the Gowanus Houses both said they would not be likely to consider a new school if it opened in the Baltic Street building with a reputation for roughness that houses two secondary schools — one so weak that it is undergoing federally-funded “transformation.” The principals of both of those schools, the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, have both been working to boost enrollment to head off the possibility of seeing a third school move in to the building.
Mitchima Ramos, a Gowanus Houses resident whose children have finished elementary school, noted that Brooklyn Prospect was briefly slated to move into space currently occupied by two preschools that the city tried to close. That space could become available again, she said.
Rodriguez suggested an Amity Street building vacated by Long Island College Hospital. And Blanca Soltero said the new building under construction for P.S. 133 could fit a charter school onto one floor.
Carmen Soltero had a different idea altogether. “They should go to District 13,” she said, referring to the neighboring district where she now lives, where schools are seen as more troubled. “The parents there just take their kids to school and don’t even think about it.”
“This neighborhood isn’t so bad,” Blanca Soltero said. “It has pretty decent schools compared to other neighborhoods.”