In a bright sea of orange T-shirts with the slogan #KidsOverPolitics, more than 4,000 parents, teachers and scholars from four Success Academy schools in Queens united at Roy Wilkins Park in St. Albans Thursday demanding Mayor Bill de Blasio fulfill his promise of building a middle school for Success students.
Families from Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, South Jamaica and Far Rockaway expressed concerns about their children’s educational future at the rally, where thousands chanted “#KidsOverPolitics” and “Parent Power.”
“If you are a NYC public school parent, you know how rare it is to find a school that both you and your child love,” said Pershemia Milliard, a Success Academy Far Rockaway parent. “That’s what we’ve found at Success. My husband and I are so worried — we will be heartbroken if our son has to leave.”
Located in Districts 27 and 29, the five Queens Success Academies are among the state’s highest-achieving schools; they also rank in the top 15 of all Queens K-8 schools. There are 2,000 Queens scholars in the four Success elementary schools alone, and another 3,000 on this year’s waitlist, according to Success Academy. About 87 percent of students are children of color and 69 percent receive free and reduced-priced lunch.
Success Academy first requested a middle school location in January 2017, for the first class of SA Rosedale graduates, who needed a middle school for the 2018-19 school year. At the time, City Hall told Success representatives that a building would be available in 2019, but not before. As a compromise, Success agreed to combine incoming middle-schoolers from Rosedale with their peers from Springfield Gardens for a temporary one-year solution.
After more than two years of waiting for classrooms promised by the de Blasio administration in 2017, there is not enough space for all scholars graduating from the four elementary schools.
“We need a middle school for my son. He’s in fourth grade and right now they don’t have any, so next year he’s not even sure if he’ll be in Success Academy anymore,” said parent Kim Hema, whose 10-year-old son attends Springfield Gardens Success Academy at 132-55 Ridgedale St. “I feel unsure, hurt and scared to be honest because Success Academy did a lot for him. Educational wise he was behind for about two years and they brought him up to where he was supposed to be and actually beyond where he is right now.”
Queens families are increasingly anxious that no specific location has been identified. While the administration recently began publicly repeating its promise of a Queens middle school for Success, no details have been released. Without a confirmed middle school location, 227 fifth-graders will be forced to leave Success Academy or travel to another borough. More than half of the public school students would go to their zoned schools — 36 of the most overcrowded district schools in southeast Queens.
Twin sisters Gabby and Grace Ekpeti, who are fourth-graders at Success Academy South Jamaica at 120-25 141st St., said they would be thrilled if their message gets through to the mayor to build another middle school.
“If we did, then all the kids who want to go to this success academy that are in fourth grade and want to go into fifth grade, they can easily come into success academy from another school,” Grace said. “If we don’t get a middle school, we’ll have to go back to being in a public school and if we do that, the teachers wouldn’t be able to push us like how I got 4’s on my state test.”
“We want to have a middle school and we want to learn more education at Success Academy because last year when we were doing the state test it was hard but our teachers pushed us through,” Gabby said.
Their mother, Osa Ekpeti, said she’s holding the mayor accountable to get the job done of constructing a Success Academy middle school in Queens.
“I know the city has space, Queens has space. There’s a building on Rockaway Boulevard that used to house Our Ladies Catholic Academy and that building is empty,” Ekpeti said. “Why can’t we have it? The mayor has promised and since we voted for him, he needs to live up to his promise. We need a middle school and we need it now.”
Like the DOE, Success Academy has a placement process for incoming middle-schoolers that determines which school a scholar will attend. Parents rank their choice of middle schools, and priority is given to scholars with siblings and by their family’s geographic proximity to the school. Without a specific location for the additional Queens middle school, student placement cannot be determined.
“The mayor has a double standard when it comes to Charter school parents,” said Eva Moscowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. “They are public school parents, and their children deserve a space to learn. We will not stand for the mayor abandoning our children. When there was a school in Tribeca that was in the same situation, the mayor swooped in and saved them. What about us? What about our kids?”