Alonso and school board grill charter hopefuls
Seven groups made their pitches to open new charter schools Tuesday, including two existing schools that are seeking to reinvent themselves with more resources and autonomy. From the looks of things, it seems the city school board will be particularly judicious in choosing who will make the cut in November.
Click here to get a full description of the applicants. Among them is a K-8 academy for girls, and a proposed co-ed military academy that is looking to open in 2013. Both were among the few schools that seemed to really capture the attention of the board.
The school board sat through each presentation, extending the meeting to nearly 11 p.m., and peppered each applicant with questions about their motives, credentials, and experience in opening and operating a school.
It was a level of interrogation that is rare for the board , but not surprising given its recent discussions of the board about mitigating the district's bulging school portfolio. About two dozen schools have opened in the district since 2007, and some are floundering due to low enrollment and heightened competition.
The schools who felt the most heat Tuesday were two existing schools seeking charter licenses: the traditional Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School and the Green Street Academy, which opened as a transformation school in 2010. Both schools said they wanted to operate their schools as charters to gain private partnerships and more money.
In his only comments of the evening, city schools CEO Andres Alonso showed a mild disdain for the applicants' notion that the charter label would bring them future prosperity, in finances and the ability to serve their students.
"I have a real problem with schools who only think they can gain that social capital by calling themselves a charter," Alonso said, adding that it was "a bankrupt way of thinking."
It was Harlem Park's second attempt to gain charter status, after being denied last year. The school's principal and her team came back this year with visuals and a more coherent plan, but the same mission: to get more resources.
"We have a challenge around the system when it comes to resources for schools--but 100 other schools aren't applying to be a charter," he told Harlem Parks principal. "I haven't heard anything on the table that you cannot do right now."
Green Street Academy opened as a transformation school last year, and revealed Tuesday that it didn't originally seek to open as a charter because it wanted to support Alonso's vision for more transformation schools.
Now, the school wants to move out of its current building, which the school's principal said is 'lousy' and hard to share with another school. The school is also hoping to appeal to private funders, and the schools' administrators say they have a better chance to get the support as a charter. The school's principal said he had a 'fiduciary responsibility' to seek out the best for his students.
But Alonso pointed out that the system invested $2 million for the school to move into the building last year, and he had a "fiduciary responsibility to 83,000 other children."