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Parents Balk at Move to Add Charter School to P.S. 316-M.S. 353 Building

Critics say move will derail both schools' art, science and music programs.

Parents are outraged over a proposal to move a charter school into the Classon Avenue building already housing P.S. 316 and M.S. 353.

City officials say they’ve focused on the L-shaped building at 750 Classon Ave. to house the soon-to-be-homeless Explore Charter School, because it is one of the few buildings in the district that has extra space.

But at a hearing Tuesday night, parents said they feared bringing in a third school would crowd already shared spaces such as the library and gym, and force the science, art and music rooms to close -- programs that are helping the once-struggling elementary school blossom.

“Our children are learning to play cellos,” said P.S. 316 Principal Elif Gure-Perez at the hearing. “Our kids are not only participating in natural science not once a week but twice a week,” she said.

 “I’m confident that with the parental involvement and with the space we have, we will be able to grow to our maximum potential,” filling the extra space in the school, she added to applause from the crowd.

Since Elif Gure-Perez took over two years ago, P.S. 316 has experienced a renaissance, with more than one parent describing the school as Prospect Heights’ “hidden gem.” An increasing number of families are sending their children there; there is even a 15-member-and-growing Google group for parents of preschoolers hoping to one day send their children to the school.

Kim Wong, of DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning, which will make the final recommendation to the Panel for Educational Policy, told the assembled crowd of about 75 parents, students and school staff that 750 Classon has about 300 fewer students, or 15 classrooms worth, than the building’s size could support.

“We found that both schools are using more classrooms then they should be,” said Wong. “That doesn’t mean that they’re not using them well, but they’re using more than they should be,” he said, adding that DoE administrators “do not consider music, art and science rooms to be absolutely necessary.”

Explore Charter School, he added, “is also serving District 17 students, and they deserve to be served just as much as 316 students.”

But at the hearing, parents and both school’s principals said the two schools already in the building are already struggling to share the library, gym and cafeteria, making the addition of a third school a logistical nightmare.

“I’m just trying to understand how we would all feed our children. We would have lunch at 10 o’clock maybe?” one parent said.

Gure-Perez as well as Claudette Essor, principal of M.S. 353, also said they believed the DoE's enrollment count was off.

Tracey Reid, P.T.A. president of M.S. 353, said moving in the charter school would hurt student morale. She added that programs such as art and music get children involved in schools and keep them away from less desirable activities.

“If you don’t spend it on the schools you are going to spend it on the prisons, but either way you are going to spend money,” she said in a telephone interview the next day.

Councilwoman Letitia James, who is against the proposal, said the next day that she is meeting with Deputy Chancellor Marc Steinberg next week to try to prevent the move.

"I just think it would adversely affect those two high performing schools,” she said.

She is also trying to prevent  into the building at 80 Underwood.

The DoE’s Office of Portfolio Planning, would consider the points parents made and make a formal recommendation by Jan. 28, Wong said.

If his office recommends bringing the charter school in, it will produce an Educational Impact Statement, explaining how the move will affect the schools, followed by another public hearing. The final step will be a vote by the mayor-controlled Panel for Educational Policy, which could come as early as the March 3 meeting, Kim said.

Parents are welcome to comment on the proposal at D17proposals@schools.nyc.gov until at least March 3.

And it's likely that e-mail box will be bombarded.

Parents have already started a petition and are planning to call their elected officials.

They hope to make the point that within a year or two the building will be at capacity just through the expansion of the two schools already there.

“There are a lot of kids that are going to be coming to this school,” said Nicole Schinman, gesturing to a baby in her arms. She also has a daughter in kindergarten at P.S. 316.

“This school has room to grow," she said. "It is in a renaissance. Let it blossom and grow.”

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