Students at a KIPP school. Photo courtesy of KIPP
The ongoing controversy over charter schools is brewing again in the city. A nationwide organization that has more than 200 charter schools is hoping to open a new middle school on the Upper West Side.
KIPP NYC, a public charter school program that began in New York City in 1995, has 13 schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and Washington Heights. It recently applied to open a middle school in District 3, which spans 59th Street to 122nd Street on the West Side.
This would be KIPP’s first integrated school, as the majority of its schools serve black and Hispanic students. The deadline to apply was Jan. 9, but KIPP spokesperson Vicki Zubovic explained it won’t easily be accepted because there is a cap on charter schools in New York, with only seven spots remaining.
In addition, KIPP faces serious opposition from Community Education Council 3 (CEC 3).
If approved, the school would open in open in 2020 and enroll about 355 students.
“We’re choosing that area because it’s a place where there is diversity,” Zubovic said.
Joe Negron, who is the managing director of middle schools for KIPP and founded KIPP Infinity Middle School in 2005, has been leading the outreach for the proposed school.
An educator for 18 years, Negron joined KIPP in 2004. He has served as teacher and principal and is also a parent in District 3.
He told the West Side Spirit that he has spent the past seven months attending CEC3 meetings, talking with families and soliciting input about their wants and needs.
From these meetings Negron says he learned three major things: families are looking for unscreened middle school options (examples of screening include testing, behavior and attendance); a school that reflects the diversity of the neighborhood; and a school with a rigorous academic environment.
“What we’re trying to create is something that’s open for all,” Negron said. “[Screening] creates very stressful situations for families and very stressful situations for kids.”
According to Negron, there are 18 public district middle schools, 15 of which have some type of screening for enrollment.
Having a school that reflects the diversity of the district is important, he stressed. In District 3, 32 percent of students are Hispanic, 32 percent are white, 22 percent are black and 8 percent are Asian.
“There are very few middle schools that actually reflect that racial diversity,” Negron commented. “There is no middle school in District 3 that has the racial socio-economic diversity of the district unless there is some level of screening involved.”
Though Negron feels he has good interactions with CEC members and residents, the CEC is not in favor of charter schools.
“I’ve really tried to engage them, even though there are charter schools that open without their support,” he said.
CEC 3 President Kim Watkins said that the CEC is strongly against a new charter school and wants a moratorium on charter schools in the district.
“We have sufficient seats for the children that are in fifth grade that are in District 3,” she said. “There is no need for another school.”
Watkins added that Negron attended the meetings as a parent in District 3 and many people did not know he was there representing KIPP as well.
Watkins said that KIPP had many listings in places throughout the country and has deep pockets to achieve what it wants.
“Charter schools are pitting communities against each other,” she said.
There are 10 charter schools in District 3, most in the northern part of the district, which is the southern part of Harlem. Watkins said that District 3 is not missing a charter school, it really just needs to change the way admissions work for specialized high schools.
On Dec. 17, the CEC held an emergency meeting where parents and members expressed their anger about the proposed school.
“The tenor of the meeting was that we want to see more information,” Watkins said. “We will continue to raise our call for a moratorium on charter schools in the district.”