Black Spectrum applies to be a charter school

Carl Clay has filed an application for the creation of a new charter school that would be run by his theater group, the Black Spectrum Theatre.
By Ivan Pereira

For four decades, the Black Spectrum Theatre has provided artists in southeast Queens with the chance to hone their skills through its various programs, and now the arts center wants to expand its influence to the classroom.

The center filed an application with the SUNY Charter School Institute Feb. 28 to create a charter middle school in School District 29 in southeast Queens. Carl Clay, the founder and executive producer of the theater, said he and his fellow administrators believe this is a good idea for the neighborhood because they have had a good experience working with the youth in the past.

“We want to have the 40 years of Black Spectrum Theatre make this school a productive and rich experience and give parents an option in School District 29,” he said.

The school, which would open in the fall of 2012 if approved by the state, would teach about 375 sixth- through eighth-graders and focus on the arts, according to Clay. In the proposal summary form that was submitted to SUNY, Black Spectrum said it will offer students “the opportunity to excel academically through the study of media and visual, theatrical and performing arts.”

The Spectrum Charter School also promises to give students a community interaction component through internships and work-study programs.

“We not only want to produce performing artists but also students who go on to lead productive lives,” Clay said.

A representative from the SUNY Charter School Institute said the application is under review. No campus location has been identified by the theater group.

Currently there are only two charter schools in southeast Queens: Merrick Academy in Jamaica and Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School in Far Rockaway.

Clay said the idea for the school grew out of the theater’s old program for southeast Queens students who were suspended from their classes. The students would come to the theater, work with professionals and undergo counseling to sort out their problems and get them on the right path.

“We worked on everything from conflict resolution to academic improvement,” the executive producer said.

The program helped dozens of teens and Clay said he and his theater administrators decided to take the step further. The theater has put together a special 20-member planning team to work out the specifics of the school and have named six people who would make up the school’s board of trustees.

Board members include Tim James, a member of Community School District 29, who serves as the education constituent specialist for state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica); PS/IS 138 Principal Nichele Manning-Andrews; and actor and director Arthur French.

Clay said he was optimistic the state would approve the plan.

“We’re going to wait to hear from the state. We hope they see it fits here in southeast Queens,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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