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By Patrick Donachie

Plans to co-locate a new charter high school in a Queens Village building already housing a public middle school is facing sharp criticism from parents and elected officials as the city’s Panel for Educational Policy prepares to vote on the proposal.

Janice Berry, the PTA president for Intermediate School 109 in Queens Village, was joined at a news conference April 7 at the school by City Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) to protest a co-location with Humanities IV, a new charter school developed by New Visions for Public Schools.

“Our main concern first and foremost is the safety of the younger children mixing with the high school,” Berry said in a telephone interview after the conference. “We’re concerned this is going to hurt enrollment in September.”

Co-location is when the DOE places two or more schools together in a single facility or campus. Often the city intends to fill underutilized space in schools or offer a neighborhood more opportunities for school options.

According to an Educational Impact Statement drafted by the DOE about the proposed co-location, IS 109 enrolled some 972 students in the most recent school year, utilizing 73 percent of its full space capability. The DOE claims the facility can support 1,334 students.

The impact statement projects that New Visions’ new charter school will serve between 105 and 115 students in its first year, during which time it will only enroll ninth graders. By the 2019-2020 school year, Humanities IV will have a full high school, serving about 420-460 students. Coupled with IS 109’s enrollment, this will push the facility’s rate to 105-110 percent enrollment. Berry and Grodenchik contended that the school already seems at capacity.

“I toured after the co-location announcement, It didn’t look 27 percent empty,” Grodenchik said, and also noted that some of the school’s current facilities left much to be desired. “The science lab looks like it comes from the ‘50s. It’s not usable.”

Timothy Farrell, the vice president for external affairs at New Visions, said he believed the co-location could be a boon to both schools and said New Visions welcomed the opportunity to meet with the families of students at IS 109.

“We are committed to building a positive and inclusive culture,” he said. “We want to create an environment in which older students understand and act upon their responsibility to the younger students, many of whom may be neighbors, cousins and siblings.”

Comrie said he was fundamentally opposed to co-locations and was frustrated because he thought that IS 109 lacked necessary resources to adequately teach students.

“There’s a large contingent of the community that wants to see these schools given the full resources they need,” the lawmaker said, and he worried that the students in IS 109 might be negatively affected by a new high school in the same facility. “The students that will be ‘left’ in 109 will feel disenfranchised.”

He also said he had submitted an alternate site for the charter at 207Jamaica Ave.to the DOE, but the city rejected the proposed new location. Comrie said he believed, however, that there was no shortage of alternative sites.

Berry has started a petition against the co-location with more than 800 signatures, and there is a public hearing scheduled for April 14 at 6 p.m. at IS 109.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposal at a 6 p.m. meeting at Middle School 131 located at 100 Hester St. in Manhattan. If it is approved, the lottery drawing for the new high school will be April 22 at 7 p.m. at the Jamaica Arts Performing Center at 153-10 Jamaica Ave. Grodenchik said he hoped the panel vote was more than a mere “formality” prior to approval.

“A more cynical person might say that,” he said. “But I’m taking the DOE at their word.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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