October 31, 2011
Success Charter Network CEO Eva Moskowitz cut short a pitch to Brownstone Brooklyn parents Saturday after dozens of protesters interrupted her presentation.
Moskowitz was holding an informational meeting at a public library about her newest school, which the Department of Education has proposed siting in a Cobble Hill building that currently houses two secondary schools and a program for severely autistic students. But the roughly 15 parents who said they came to learn more about Cobble Hill Success Academy, which would open next fall, were easily outnumbered by opponents of Moskowitz’s bid to open a school in the area.
Last week, the opponents said they planned to stand outside the Carroll Gardens library during Moskowitz’s noon information session, but freezing rain drove them inside, where they distributed brochures criticizing Cobble Hill Success and charter schools more generally.
Shouting, “We have information for parents also! This district doesn’t have failing schools, it has successful elementary schools!” they interrupted a presentation made by parents from the Upper West Side school that was Moskowitz’s first foray into a neighborhood that, like Cobble Hill, includes many middle-class families and high-performing schools.
As the back-and-forth between audience members and presenters grew more confrontational, Moskowitz admonished the crowd.
“This isn’t a protest meeting, and there are parents who need to understand if they do like this option,” she said. “They’re not going to be able to make that determination if we can’t have a discussion. You’ve got to be able to kick the tires, know your options.”
Later, shouts erupted again while Moskowitz was describing her background as a parent, former City Council member, and charter school founder. After Benjamin Greene, the president of the parent council for nearby District 13, called out, “All you’re doing is pitting people against to each other,” Moskowitz ended her presentation before discussing the new school.
“If you can’t hear me out we’ll have to cancel the meeting because I can’t shout over you,” she said, then left the stage area of the basement meeting room.
The Upper West Success Academy parents had had more luck communicating with the crowd, which was comprised of nearly 100 parents, teachers, and members of the Community Education Councils for Districts 15 and 13, the Coalition for Public Education and the Grassroots Education Movement.
Upper West Success parents described the network’s schools, noting an emphasis on college preparation. They also sympathized with some of the sentiments that protesters expressed.
“I had all your same concerns,” J.C. Renners, whose daughter Grace is in kindergarten at Upper West Success, told the protesters. ”You say ‘Access to a high quality public education isn’t something that should be won in a lottery,’ and I couldn’t agree more. I feel so bad for all the kids who don’t have access to quality education, and that included our daughter before we had this option. We were zoned for a failing school.”
The three elementary schools nearest to the Baltic Street site proposed for Cobble Hill Success — P.S. 29, P.S. 58, and P.S. 261 — are all high-performing and serve many middle-class families. But the surrounding district, District 15, also includes struggling elementary schools and students who live in housing projects.
Jackie Johnson, a parent whose daughter attends P.S. 32, located in nearby Boerum Hill, said she believes the charter school is being wrongly championed as a savior for the neighborhood, which boasts high-performing district elementary schools but not enough seats for every interested family.
“There is no way that the creation of this one charter will do anything to alleviate the overcrowding in these districts,” she said after the meeting. “They were saying that this school gives choices, but I came here to say it takes choices away.”
After leaving the stage, Moskowitz talked to several attendees one-on-one briefly before leaving the meeting room entirely. Officials from the network held informal informational sessions with small groups of parents in the room until shortly after 1 p.m. 10 Brooklyn parents at the event offered to hold information sessions in their homes later this year, according to Jenny Sedlis, SCN’s spokeswoman.
Marc Griffin, a Cobble Hill father of a 2-year-old, said he regretted braving the snow, only to walking away with little information on the proposed school.
“I’m zoned for P.S. 29. But I’m interested in learning more about this,” he said. “I wish they had gotten to the actual programming. There will be opposition no matter what you do — so you give the presentation.”
A public hearing on the co-location is set for Nov. 29, in advance of the Panel for Educational Policy’s vote Dec. 14.