Op-Ed: Excellent schools will keep parents like me in southeast Queens

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Later this month, the New York City Panel for Education Policy (PEP) gets to vote on whether two new Success Academy elementary schools will open next year in the Rochdale and Springfield Gardens neighborhoods of Queens. Given that there are hundreds of Queens parents on Success Academy waitlists and very limited high-performing schools in these neighborhoods, it should be the easiest decision of the year. Unfortunately, thanks to organized pushback often fueled by misinformation, the PEP’s approval of the new schools is in question.

I am all too aware of the stakes involved in this decision. My three children, currently in second, seventh and eighth grades, are all thriving at Success Academy Springfield Gardens, which they have attended since kindergarten. My sister-in-law however, was not so fortunate. She applied more than once for both my nieces, but with 20 applicants for each seat at Success Academy Queens schools, they didn’t secure a spot. My sister-in-law wasn’t thrilled with the school prospects in her area, and eventually moved to Long Island. 

My sister-in-law’s move should come as a warning for the city. How many families make similar decisions every year? Parents aren’t going to just shrug their shoulders and enroll their children in schools they dislike. They will take drastic actions to find alternatives — including moving away. 

It is widely known that many Queens parents in the districts where the new Success schools would be located aren’t satisfied with their current choices. In 2021, District 29 parents rallied demanding better schools. For this school year, there were 9,644 applications for 487 available spots at the current SA elementary schools in the borough. Two new Success schools would mean hundreds more Queens children would be able to receive an outstanding public education, and hundreds more Queens families could commit long-term to their community and city. 

What would make the PEP vote against these new schools? Demand exists and, according to the NYC Department of Education’s annual report on public school building utilization, so does space.  The DOE’s report indicates that the buildings proposed for co-location each have  enough room for existing schools to grow and still accommodate a new Success Academy. 

These are the facts — but, unfortunately, those resistant to the co-locations are denying them. They state that space is a problem: that there simply isn’t enough of it.

I heard these very arguments in December when community members were invited to share their thoughts about the co-locations at a public hearing. Those not in favor of the proposals certainly had passion, but their passion was rooted in misinformation. For example, students from the high schools had been told that their schools would not be able to offer additional advanced placement classes if Success Academy moved in. Teachers and administrators said their schools would be obstructed from offering special programs, and that they wouldn’t be able to grow or comply with upcoming class size mandates. 

I applaud the passion of the speakers — the students were eloquent and the principals and teachers have clearly worked hard to make improvements at their schools — but the reality is that the city’s space estimates take into account future growth and class size reductions and the co-location would have no effect on programming. It’s disheartening that community members are fighting each other based on misinformation — particularly since Success has an excellent track record of positive co-location partnerships, and research indicates that when charter schools join a building, existing schools continue to perform and get better.

The campuses where the co-locations are proposed were built to serve hundreds more students than they currently have. The families who want to send their children to these Success Academy schools are Queens residents and New York City taxpayers, just like their neighbors, and have just as much right to this offered space. Success Academy is not asking to take anything away from the community, but genuinely seeking to add to it and I sincerely believe these proposed co-locations can allow the community to come together and work as a team.  

The bottom line is that our Queens districts are desperately in need of more schools they can rely on to educate their children. This is what I currently have as a parent. My children have discovered passions, made great friends, and had teachers who are invested not just in their academic success, but in them as people. Their school isn’t perfect — I strongly believe no school is — but it has been the best choice for our family and one that more parents want access to.

The addition of two new high-performing public elementary schools in Queens will be a boon for parents while posing no disruptions to existing schools. In actuality, additional elementary schools could ease the overcrowding that does currently exist in some of the district’s elementary schools. I hold high expectations that next week, the PEP will make their decision based on the children and giving Queens parents the chance to have access to school choices that work for them.

Tamika Adeniji lives in St. Albans, Queens.