Volume 19 • Issue 10 | July 21- - 27, 2006

After NEST fight, charter lands at Tweed Courthouse

By Anindita Dasgupta

Over the past four months, Sherill Collins, a prospective parent at Ross Global Academy charter school, has gone from being nervous to ecstatic, from ecstatic to devastated and finally from devastated to ecstatic again now that the search for the charter school’s location is over.

Collins and many other Ross parents can now say their children definitely have seats for school in the fall. After their initial nervousness and excitement from their children’s acceptances to the new school, disappointment cloaked the Ross parents as months of fighting for a school location ensued. Last Friday, the Department of Education announced that the Ross academy will take City Hall Academy’s place on the first floor of Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse on Chambers St. Meanwhile, the department has said they will find another location for City Hall Academy, a program designed for professional development, two-week school residency programs, field trips and after-school programs.

Ross Academy released a statement earlier in the week saying they are pleased with their new temporary location and look forward to starting in the fall. A spokesperson for Courtney Sale Ross, a co-founder of the school, said she “is just thrilled that the children at Ross Global Academy will have a place to go to school.” At the moment, the plan is for the school to be in the building the next two years.

“I am profoundly gratified,” said Ross parent Elias Rodriguez. “This hard-fought victory is stark evidence that the charter school movement is worthy of support by policy-makers and parents, especially given the huge demand for them in our district and especially given the dismal failure of the current system to serve all the children of the city, not just those belonging to families with clout and connections.”

Rodriguez’s “charter school movement” reference relates to Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki’s push to extend the cap on charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) to 150, with the number of schools already having reached the cap of 100. Despite the $41 million Bloomberg had privately raised for the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence, a nonprofit group designed to help the city’s 47 existing charters, the proposal to extend the cap stalled in the Legislature.

While the Ross school will enjoy its own space literally under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s office in the fall, its effort to find space has been fraught with conflict. Outraged by the department’s decision to place the charter school in their building, parents at New Explorations into Science Technologies and Math on Columbia St. held protests and filed lawsuits against the Board of Regents, D.O.E. and Ross Global Academy. Parents from both schools grew sensitive as uncomfortable issues of class, race and privilege were raised both inside and outside the courtrooms.

Proceedings came to a halt when the department reversed its seemingly steadfast decision on July 23. Due to its sudden decision to replace longtime principal of NEST, Celenia Chevere, the department said it would temporarily place the charter school elsewhere to avoid adding to the instability of the school. Since then, Chevere has resigned and the department is no longer pursuing legal action against her on departmental charges of insubordination.

The Ross school will follow the education model developed at the Ross School of East Hampton, a private school founded 15 years ago by Ross and her late husband, Steven J. Ross, former Time Warner chairperson and C.E.O. The charter school was developed with the Ross Institute and New York University to serve Lower Manhattan families. Ross aims to educate students with diverse academic and ethnic backgrounds through an approach incorporating various cultural perspectives, technology and healthcare subjects, such as proper nutrition education.

“We love the Ross School model,” said Ross parent Greta Schiller. “They walk the walk, not just talk, about giving all kids an equal chance, teaching with a project-based, world-cultures approach, rather than using a standardized test and standardized curriculum, when kids are hardly standard.”

Ross Global Academy will start in the fall with 160 students in grades kindergarten, one, five and six, with plans to eventually grow to include up to grade 12. Over 400 students have applied and approximately 42 percent of the 158 currently enrolled students are from the Lower East Side, with the rest traveling from around the city. Students are admitted through a lottery system, which some Ross parents feel is a large draw to the school.

Parents can still apply for the fall although there is already a lenghty waiting list.

Collins’s daughters will start kindergarten and fifth grade at the academy in the fall.

“It [the lottery system] meant it was open,” she said. “It didn’t matter where you came from, as long as you sent in your forms on time, everyone got a chance to apply.” She added that the lottery system led to a diverse group of students, which would help students learn about different cultures. “Our world is a diverse world, and they have to know how to learn from other cultures,” she said of the students.

Rodriguez is optimistic about his daughters’ education in the fall.

“If they fought this hard to get our kids a classroom, imagine how much more success they will engender as they strive to educate our children,” he said.


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