Being a Success Academy parent is a strange experience. On the one hand, I feel grateful every day: my children, in second and fourth grades, are receiving an extraordinary education. On the other hand, I am in a constant state of frustration and bewilderment because City Hall inexplicably refuses to provide space for a middle school, and thus I don’t know whether my fourth grader will be able to continue this education next year.
Last week, the City offered a “solution” to Success Academy’s rising fifth-grade families across Brooklyn and Queens: one building in East Flatbush. Success Academy has 12 elementary schools in Brooklyn alone: its middle school enrollment is set to triple in the next two years and in four years, Success will have 3000 Brooklyn middle schoolers. Mayor de Blasio’s non-solution means that scholars will be forced into a temporary, distant space, only to move yet again for seventh and eighth grades.
By law, the city is required to provide space for approved charter schools that is “reasonable, appropriate and comparable…in reasonable proximity.” Mayor de Blasio continues to break this law. Success Academy first requested space for SA Cobble HIll three years ago, in 2014. In December of that year, Chancellor Farina issued a statement saying the city expected to find us space for a permanent middle school. When an entire year went by with no movement, Success requested space again in 2016. Yet again, the City failed to give Cobble Hill families a permanent middle school location, forcing many to find alternative placements for their fifth and sixth graders.
What is most outrageous about this situation is that there are half a dozen underutilized public school buildings — each with 400 or more empty seats and all within a reasonable, commutable distance — which the Mayor could use to fulfill his promise to my son and hundreds of other Brooklyn scholars. Without a realistic solution, I may have to do what the Mayor has already forced so many other Cobble Hill families to do: withdraw my child from a school that truly works for him.
Ironically, SA Cobble Hill is a model of what Mayor de Blasio says he wants for all New York City schools: It is the highest performing school in my district and also one of the most integrated: 65% of its students are black or Hispanic and 38% are low income. It has erased the within-school achievement gap that plagues so many integrated schools: every demographic group in the school significantly outperforms white students across the district, the city, and the state.
This is particularly upsetting because I made a deliberate choice to move my son to this school. For first and second grade, my son attended his zoned district school. Despite its highly regarded reputation, it wasn’t a fit; he wasn’t being challenged academically and his enthusiasm for school was waning.
I applied to several alternative schools for third grade, and my son was accepted to a local G&T program. When I toured that program, I found it was housed at a large school serving mostly black and brown students, but in the G&T classrooms, virtually every student was white. When I toured SA Cobble Hill, it was different: It offered real diversity. Students of many races, ethnicities, and incomes learn side by side as one team and one community. The instruction was engaging, the walls showcased assignments that were thoughtful and creative, and the teachers were clearly knowledgeable and deeply invested. Most importantly, because it was K-12, I could avoid the notoriously daunting middle and high school application process.
So here I am. Grateful for my children’s education, confounded by the actions of our public officials, worried on my own behalf, and even more on behalf of many of my son’s classmates. I am lucky that if the worst comes to pass — SA Cobble Hill does not get its promised middle school — I have choices. But many of my fellow parents don’t. Their options will be a temporary location and a laborious, time-sucking commute — or a school where less than 20% of students are proficient in reading and math.
Mayor de Blasio claims he cares about the city’s struggling families. He claims he cares about equity, about excellence in education, about opportunity, and integration. I am bewildered by his actions, but one thing is crystal clear: Mayor de Blasio couldn’t care less.
Elliotte Crowell Simian lives in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. She is the mother of two Success Academy Cobble Hill students and a preschooler.