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Girls Prep Debate Attracts Huge Crowd, Stirs High Emotions

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It was a raucous, tense evening inside the filled-beyond-capacity auditorium of P.S. 20 on Essex Street Wednesday night (see video after the jump). Hundreds of parents came to speak out against the Department of Education’s proposed plans to accommodate the expansion of the Girls Prep Charter School.  The crowd was overflowing into the aisles and out into the school’s entryway. People carried signs, chanted, heckled DOE officials and shouted down other parents. The unmistakable message: there’s no room for Girls Prep in any of their schools.

Girls Prep is currently sharing a building on Houston Street with P.S. 94, a special needs school, and P.S. 188, the Island School. In order to expand its middle school (adding 300 students), Girls Prep is seeking 12 additional classrooms. The DOE is evaluating three scenarios:

  • Moving P.S. 94 out of the district, allowing Girls Prep to expand in its current location. A new program for disabled students would then be added in the district at P.S. 184, the Shuang Wen School.
  • Moving the Girls Prep Middle School to a building now shared by the School for Global Leaders, the Marta Valle Secondary School and the Lower East Side Preparatory High School. The School for Global Leaders would move into P.S. 20.
  • Moving the Girls Prep Middle School into P.S. 20, where the two schools would share space.

Wednesday’s meeting, part of a process mandated by a new state law, was intended to solicit feedback from parents and other members of the community. DOE officials Debra Kurshan and Daniella Phillips got an earful.

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Speaker after speaker blasted the DOE, and derided the notion that there’s any extra space in their kids’ schools. They said rooms used for art classes, music and science labs would be sacrificed if any of the proposed changes are implemented. Many parents said it was wrong to take resources away from traditional public schools in which the students are overwhelmingly non-white and low-income.

Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Alan Gerson were also critical of the DOE, saying officials were pitting LES schools against one another. Gerson said, “this is no way to run a school system.”  Outnumbered but determined to stand their ground, Girls Prep leaders defended their growth plans. (You can read about our recent visit to Girls Prep here.) Some of the most vocal critics last night were opponents of charter schools. Several speakers suggested the public funded but privately operated schools are part of a scheme by the mayor to destroy the public school system, siphoning off scarce resources. But others said they have no problem, philosophically, with charter schools. Their sole concern is the allocation of space – and (as they see it) the DOE’s misguided strategy to wedge charter schools into traditional public school buildings.

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District 1 Superintendent Daniella Phillips

The Education Department will be accepting feedback about the proposed plans through December 10. A decision is expected by the end of the year. Then there will be a hearing at the impacted school after the new year. If you would like to comment on the plans, you can send an email to: portfolio@schools.nyc.gov. You can also send a fax to 212-374-5581, or mail a letter to Debra Kurshan, Department of Education, 52 Chambers Street, New York, NY, 10007. Phillips noted that she had received a large number of “form letters,” apparently part of a campaign by parents at P.S. 184 and P.S. 20. Phillips said feedback that is individualized and specific will be of more use to officials as they make final decisions in the weeks ahead.

Here are some of the highlight’s from Wednesday’s contentious meeting:

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