DOE Reverses Unpopular Co-Location Plan at University Neighborhood HS

University Neighborhood High School, 200 Monroe St.

University Neighborhood High School, 200 Monroe St.

It’s not too hard to tell there’s a new sheriff in town. Today parents at University Neighborhood High School are celebrating a decision announced late yesterday by the Department of Education.

Last fall, they were disheartened to learn that the lame duck Bloomberg administration was forcing through a co-location proposal at their century-old building on Monroe Street.  In spite of their strong objections, the DOE decided to house a new technical high school in the facility.  But now the new commissioner, Carmen Fariña, is changing course. In a memo released yesterday afternoon, she announced that the new technical school would likely be moved to Murry Bergtraum High School on Pearl Street.

Here’s a portion of the memo, which addressed many co-location proposals, including several involving charter schools throughout the city:

We are committed to engaging more meaningfully with our school communities—nothing is more important than involving families in decisions affecting their children’s education. I am writing to share our process for reviewing… 49 space-sharing proposals that were approved last fall. The previous administration handed over these proposals—and we have had to review all of them under inflexible deadlines… If there is one thing school communities should know, it’s this: we are going to do things differently. Today, we are turning the page on the approach of the past. We are going to listen and be responsive like never before, and that will be reflected in everything we do. First, we do not believe new elementary schools should be opened on high school campuses. While there are examples where it can be effective, overall we have heard concerns from high school communities, as well as elementary level ones, about this practice. We believe high school campuses should serve high school students. On high school campuses, if we have several schools together, we can encourage them to share resources such as AP classes or a library. Second, we want to ensure that all new schools have the resources they need to provide the services students deserve. Very small schools—under 250 students—may have difficulty providing the range of support needed to serve students effectively. Third, we considered construction. We looked closely at proposals that would have depended on significant capital work to create space for the co-location, or those that required substantial dislocation to the existing schools within a building… From the nine proposals that will be withdrawn, we are able to propose better building matches for three of those schools, which will be described in two educational impact statements… We will propose opening a 9-14 high school – previously proposed for the University Neighborhood High School – and a Career and Technical Education high school – previously proposed for Long Island City High School – at the Murry Bergtraum campus. If approved, that means that campus will serve only high school grades… As you may know, we are initiating a new, meaningful engagement process. The buildings of the above-described proposals will receive walk-throughs from senior DOE leadership, the principal, and the SLT. We will also consult with the school community significantly – the engagement process for these proposals is going to look very different than it has in the past. For the 35 proposals that will be implemented, we will host a meeting for each school community to discuss next steps, listen to, and engage with parents and educators.

Last night, City Council member Margaret Chin released a statement praising  the DOE for canceling the co-location plan at University Neighborhood High School as well as the siting of a Success Academy charter school in the Murry Bergtraum building.

Over the past several months, we rallied, testified at hearings, and wrote several letters expressing our serious concerns about the proposed co-locations in University Neighborhood High School and Murry Bergtraum High School, and I am pleased that the Department of Education heard the voices of the parents, students, educators who understand firsthand the educational needs of our community… This is a major victory for UNHS and MBHS, and I thank Chancellor Fariña and Mayor de Blasio for putting our children first… Overcrowded classrooms, congested hallways, and limited resources take away from a school’s ability to provide a quality education. Parents send their children to school every day with the expectation that they will learn in an adequate and safe environment, and I look forward to working with the Department of Education to make sure that our schools get the support and resources they need to meet that profound obligation.

Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 Community Education Council added:

We are pleased that the new administration heard the real concerns raised by District 1 parents, students, staff and community members about the negative impact the proposed co-location would have had on both schools- UNHS as well as the new CTE school.  The 100 plus year-old UNHS building infrastructure is simply not adequate for one high school, let alone two with a combined population of nearly 800 students at scale. CEC 1 is grateful to Council Member Chin for her leadership on this issue  and joins her in offering support to both school communities as they strive to reach their full potential going forward.