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Why I Say No to the Red Hook Charter School

July 8, 2011
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By Jim Devor

There are multiple reasons why the Red Hook Charter School would be detrimental to Community School District 15. The following are excerpts from the comments I submitted to the New York State Regents in opposition to the Red Hook Charter School application.

Contrary to the representation made by the applicant, there is little evidence of much community support for this charter school. For example, the proponent of the application in question was duly notified, in advance, of the public hearing. On that evening, over thirty parents appeared in support of the application of the Brooklyn Urban Garden School. Yet, no one, aside from Lisa Chamberlin, spoke in favor of the Red Hook Charter School proposal nor (as far as I could tell from the front of the room) did anyone else appear to be in support of it.

The application’s explicit reference to the increasingly affluent and “whitening” populations in Census Tracts 55, 57 and 59 in Red Hook is far from casual. Rather, it describes the population the proposed Charter School is actually seeking to serve. Further, it assumes, without elaboration, that the educational needs of those residents cannot be adequately met by the already existing nearby public schools. It does this without acknowledging that, unlike most of the rest of District 15, Red Hook area public schools are underutilized and thus, in no need of further physical capacity.

There can be little doubt that the Red Hook Charter School envisions itself as an enclave of educationally “progressive- minded” parents whose children would otherwise be compelled to attend “struggling” schools in an impoverished neighborhood. Unspoken, though, is that PS 15 – the school with the largest enrollment in the neighborhood – is also one of the highest rated schools in District 15. In fact, in the last set of Progress Reports put out by the NYC Department of Education – among the approximately twenty elementary schools in the District – its rating came in essentially tied for second place with that of the District’s most affluent school (P.S. 321) located in Park Slope.

Nor, for that matter, is District 15 a “struggling” district.  In its K-8 programs, the District has consistently met all of the State and Federal AYP standards. Indeed, over the past ten years, it has shown one of the highest rates of progress in the entire State (second only to District One within the City of New York).

Fifteen years ago, there were perhaps only two elementary schools within District 15 deemed “successful” by the kind of middle class parents that the applicant seeks to recruit. Now, there is a vastly larger number of schools that fit that rubric. One reason is that by dint of hard work and great leadership, those other schools got better. As they did, middle class parents became increasingly involved in the growth of those school communities. And in the kind of synergy that public policymakers dream of, as those parents become more connected to those facilities, the schools improved even more for all the children attending. Indeed, it has been one of my very real pleasures as a Community Education Council member and leader to watch that process unfold again and again.

That scenario has been happening at PS 15. Not only have its numbers demonstrated its quality, the “new people” coming into Red Hook have also been recognizing it. The school – for the first time in well over a generation – has a double-digit percentage of White non-Hispanics attending. We seriously fear that should the application be approved and the Red Hook Charter School be opened, it might well stop this encouraging trend toward racial and class integration in its tracks.

As you probably know, the opening words of the Hippocratic Oath are “First, do no harm”. I believe that the Regents are under a solemn obligation to abide by at least those words. Accordingly, because approval of the application of the Red Hook Charter School has the likely potential of inflicting serious adverse consequences onto the surrounding community, the Regents must reject it or in the alternative, defer final consideration until such time as the issues raised herein are appropriately addressed.

Jim Devor is the President of Community Education Council 15

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzy L. permalink
    July 11, 2011 9:39 am

    You may not want the charter school and are entitled to your feelings, but what do the parents of the community want for their children? How many seats will the charter have and how many applications did it receive? If the people of the community want other options for educating their children that should be the driving force behind opening new schools.

  2. mare o'neill permalink
    July 12, 2011 12:19 pm

    Jim Devor,

    Thank you saying what so many red hook residents are thinking. i am a parent with a young child very concerned about where she will attend public school two years from now. I’ve been completely put off by Ms. Chamberlin’s tactics – secret meetings in her living room and clearly recruiting the white hipster familiies while completely ignoring the majority of working class familiies in RH. Based on Ms. Chamberlein’s heavy use of progressive pedagogical nomenclature in the charter school’s application and printed materials, you would think this school was setting up shop in Sausalito, CA or Bainbridge Island, WA, not a highly urban neighborhood in Brooklyn. I’m surprised she hasn’t just set up a recruiting booth in Fort Defiance or Baked.

    That being said, I would love, love to send my son to PS 15, but the current admin seems very nonplussed when it comes to recruiting and accommodating the needs of middle class families, which are moving to the area in droves. If the prinicpal used PS 261 as model (a great zoned school with a progressive bent and sizable number of students residing public housing), she’s have a full house. Parents can’t be the only catalysts for a school’s improvement.

    • mare o'neill permalink
      July 12, 2011 12:31 pm

      pronoun error in first sentence. should have been “he” not “she”. I have a 3 year old son

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