New charter school eyed

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

Southeast Queens already has three charter schools and, for the time being, that may be all it can comfortably handle.

A group of educators has a proposal to open a new charter school in District 29 in fall 2013, but since the former private school building it wants to occupy will not be available until 2015, the plan calls to share a building for two years with a public school that has had its problems with co-location before.

The lead applicant for the Achievers of New York Charter School for Student-Centered Education and Entrepreneurship is Lori Jones-Dessilanes, a Nassau County resident who lived in Laurelton for 30 years and graduated from IS 59 in Springfield Gardens.

Her plan for the charter school is to enter into an agreement with the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to occupy the former home of the St. Pius X Catholic School in Rosedale.

That building, however, will not be available until 2015, so in the meantime Jones-Dessilanes proposed that her charter school share the building with her alma-mater, IS 59, for two years.

IS 59, at 132-55 Ridgedale St. in Jamaica, has been sharing its building with another school since 2010 and critics have said the pairing has been unfair to the school’s students.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) stood with parents two years ago when they protested the city Department of Education’s plan to move the Eagle Academy for Young Men from its home in Jamaica to the Springfield Gardens school, saying it would inhibit IS 59’s growth.

It was Eagle Academy that eventually outgrew the space, and earlier this year the DOE announced it planned to move the school in fall 2012 to the St. Albans home of the Greater Allen AME Christian School, which closed at the end of the school year due to financial difficulties.

Comrie once again opposed co-location earlier this year when the DOE announced it planned to replace the outgoing Eagle Academy with the popular Cambria Heights Academy, a plan it eventually scrubbed.

But Comrie, who still says “I’m not crazy about co-location,” has backed the Achievers of New York Charter school proposal and wrote a letter to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute supporting Jones-Dessilanes’ application.

“I was very impressed with her background, knowledge and desire to create a program,” the councilman said. “We need another school for more specialized needs.”

Jones-Dessilanes said she was well aware of IS 59’s history with co-location and, if granted the charter, she would work to make sure the arrangement is mutually beneficial for students at both schools.

“I am making every effort possible so that our relationship, meaning myself and the current principal, works cohesively for all the kids in the community,” she said.

Jones-Dessilanes’ efforts have yielded letters of support for her school from southeast Queens clergy and other elected officials.

Southeast Queens already has three charter schools: the Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School in Baisley Park (District 28) and the Merrick Academy/Queens Public Charter School in Queens Village and the Riverton Street Charter School in St. Albans, both of which are in District 29.

Alicia Hyndman, president of District 29’s Community Education Council, said the debate over charter schools tends to be most controversial when they include co-locating with public schools.

She said both schools in her district have their own buildings.

“We don’t have that. Especially in Brooklyn and Manhattan, you hear that a lot. We don’t have that issue here in southeast Queens,” she said. “For every parent who doesn’t want a charter school, there are 10 parents who do.”

“I’m sure if this school were to form, parents will be lining up,” she added.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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