PS-MS 138 Principal: I am a Choice, Too

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Marie Chauvet-Monchik, Principal of PS/MS 138, at mid-December rally protesting charter school co-location.

Marie Chauvet-Monchik, Principal of PS/MS 138, stood in bold defiance before Chancellor Walcott and the members of the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) to defend her school against co-location. “I am the proud principal of PS 138,” said Monchik. “For the last five years, my school had one B and four consecutive A’s. One A is a lucky charm. Two A’s is success. Three A’s is academic superiority. That is what my school offers. We have more than just three A’s. [We have] four.”

Acknowledging charter school parents who say how successful their schools are, Monchik declared, “I am as successful as you. So parents are saying, ‘Give me choice.’ My school is the choice.”

Monchik outlined the opportunities parents are given at her school for their children to be educated. “I take children from pre-K, when they are 3 or 4 years old. By the time they graduate at 13 and 14, some of them have 6 high school credits that they earn at PS 138. They take the Regents and they pass it. Some of them go to academically excellent high schools like Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and so on,” said Monchik.

 “When my students graduate and go to college,” she added, “they come back and thank me for it.”

Monchik spoke of how she felt about a charter school co-location in her building. “But now you want to take my school and tell me that Success Academy will give the children choice,” Monchik said. “It’s not fair.”

In the face of the impending PEP vote to co-locate in her school, Monchik said, “All I want to tell you is you are taking away my space and giving it to Success [Academy]. You tell them they have choice. Well, the choice is 138. I am choice, too. And I am a successful school.”

That evening, PEP voted to co-locate Success Academy in Monchik’s building. Success Academy is a charter school group founded by former City Council member Eva Moskowitz. At the December meeting, in addition to PS/MS 138, PEP voted to add six co-location schools (one in the Bronx, three in Brooklyn and two in Manhattan).

At a recent public hearing the PS/MS 130 co-location, several dozen children, teachers, elected officials and community activists expressed their views overwhelmingly opposing the change. The comments were analyzed and a questionable assessment was published.

While acknowledging the positive performance of PS 138, the DOE does not anticipate that the co-location will have an effect on school programming. The DOE does not use existing school performance as co-location criteria and it states 33% of all DOE buildings house more than one school organization. While asserting there are not a sufficient number of school buildings to allow each school organization to operate in its own building, DOE ignores some facts. With the closing of numerous Catholic schools in NYC, there are many unutilized school buildings available. In addition, there are empty former public school buildings. One located on Blake and Rockaway Avenues in Brownsville has been unused and fallow for years.

DOE defends its decision to co-locate in 138 despite the experience of co-locating Explorer Empower in the building 3 years ago. At the time, Explorer Empower served students K-second grade, which led to such overcrowding the school was relocated within a matter of months. It didn’t matter that Explorer was projected to serve K-8 at scale, just as it doesn’t matter that Success plans to serve K-5.

DOE states enrollment at 138 has dropped 15% since Explorer was co-located there. At the co-location public hearing, Principal Monchik stated PS/MS 138 is only allowed to have three kindergarten classes. Monchik recommended allowing PS/MS 138 to have four, instead of co-locating Success in her school. Adding another kindergarten class, as well as a Gifted and Talented (G&T) class would address the enrollment decline, Principal Monchik said. DOE’s answer was District 17’s PS 161 serves G&T needs.

At the public hearing, Principal Monchik told of her student’s parents who received pre-PEP approval advertisements from Success Academy for the 2013-14 school term as if they were already in the building. Those parents vowed they would not complete Success applications and many told Monchik they threw them away. DOE stated that Success was authorized by SUNY, its charter authorizer, to open in Brooklyn in 2013, pending PEP approval.  Charter schools maintain the right to advertise their programs and recruit students to apply for entry via a blind lottery. Noncharter schools also maintain the right to advertise their school and programs, but public schools generally do not have the budget that charter schools have to advertise. DOE did not that any proposed co-locations of schools in charter school advertising should have been listed as pending PEP approval.

Regarding one concern about charter schools not serving special education students or counseling out students with special needs or behavioral issues, DOE pointed to state law which requires all public charter schools must serve all students admitted through their lotteries, and serve a percentage of special education and English Language Learner (ELL) students comparable to the district average. Charter schools that fail to meet special education and/or ELL targets risk being closed or having their renewal applications rejected. In addition, DOE asserts that a school is not advantaged by having a lower enrollment of ELL and special education students because Progress Reports provide “extra credit” as an incentive to serve special needs students well.

Although Principal Monchik has installed two fully functional science labs in PS/MS 138, school footprint guidelines only require one, with several “cluster” rooms that can be used for art, music or science instruction at the principal’s discretion.  The Office of Space Planning, in collaboration with the Building Councils, approved the co-location. Should the decision include allocating specific rooms to Success that are currently being used by PS 138 to offer amenities, the DOE may replace and construct new amenities in other areas of the building in order to continue supporting PS 138’s programming needs. But this is not guaranteed.

There are concerns that Success Academy’s longer school day might interfere with PS/MS 138’s Medgar Evers College Beacon Programs that operate in the building between 3-6pm. The Building Utilization Plan (BUP) did not allocate time beyond 3pm in the shared spaces (library, auditorium, cafeteria, and gymnasium) to either of the co-located schools in the proposed shared space schedule.  The Building Council will allocate time in the shared spaces as needed for after-school programs. DOE concludes Success Academy’s longer school day will have no impact on the ability of the Beacon Program to use shared spaces during after-school hours.

Schools all across the city have been targeted for co-locations of charter schools in recent years under Bloomberg’s Mayoral Control. Co-locations accelerated when NYS more than doubled the number of charter schools, lifting the cap from 200 to 460. Communities can look forward to more charter school co-locations. The question is whether communities become proactive instead of reactive.

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