Charter school expansion given green light despite community opposition

By MIAWLING LAM

Tech International Charter School, a new middle school scheduled to open in Kingsbridge this September, has been formally approved to accept 132 sixth-graders in its first year.

 

The SUNY trustees education committee last week rubber-stamped the enrollment expansion, even after parents and elected officials requested just days before that the plan be denied.

 

State education officials made scant reference to TI during their 90-minute meeting on Wednesday, January 25, mentioning it just once while rattling off a slew of other charter revision applications.

 

“A small enrollment increase for the Tech International Charter School, set to open next fall, [is] driven by the size of the facilities. They have a private facility,” a committee member said.

 

The committee then voted to follow the Charter Schools Institute board of trustees’ recommendation and approved its charter revision.

 

In its initial charter application to the State University of New York—one of three agencies authorized to grant charter school permits—TI officials stated they would accept just 88 sixth-graders in their opening year.

 

However, the school, which was slated to open in a smaller facility in Fordham Heights, sought to boost their intake after securing a 10-story, mixed-use building at 3120 Corlear Avenue.

 

At a public hearing on January 19, a small but concerned group of parents, community members and local politicians queried the logic behind allowing an untested school to expand by 50 percent before even opening.

 

But SUNY not only voted to allow the school population to increase in the first year but also to swell from 267 students to 334 in grades 6 through 8 by 2016-17.

 

And because the state affords all charter schools a 20 percent allowance on either side of the approved enrollment number, TI could end up accepting as many as 158 sixth-graders.

 

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has previously criticized the expansion, believing there is already a high density of children in the area.

 

He also took issue with the school’s failure to have an on-site lunchroom, gym, library or auditorium.

 

“Within a three-block radius, there are already 7,000 to 8,000 students attending the various schools of the Kennedy campus, M.S/H.S 368, P.S 37, P.S. 207, P.S. 7 and St. John’s School,” he said.

 

“That’s a lot of kids, and the school would certainly increase congestion in the area.”

 

TI co-founder and executive director Steve Bergen declined to comment, as he had yet be notified of the decision by SUNY officials as of press time.

 

However, while on a three-day trip to Canada he was  successful in getting four schools—two in Canada and two in Mexico—to become TI international partners.

 

The Canadian schools are Quinte Mohawk School in Belleville and Loughborough Public School in Sydenham. The Mexican schools are Instituto Internacional Octavio Paz in Ajijic and American School Foundation of Monterrey.

 

“We knew we had the ‘T’ of TI because we have 300 computers set aside for the families, but we knew we wouldn’t get the ‘I,’” he said.

 

“It’s only in the last week that we have made these international connections with people who have never met us. It is so exciting.”

 

At last month’s TI board meeting, Bergen explained that having international partners would allow students to breach barriers and expand global connections, leading to shared understanding that enhances the lives of school communities.

 

“Each of [our] classrooms, we would like to be associated with one school in one country. So one is the Ghana classroom, one is the Canada classroom and one is the Mexico classroom,” he said.

 

“But not just the way some schools hang the Mexican flag and say it’s the Mexican classroom.

 

“We want to have a school in Mexico where the sixth-grade teacher is a friend of ours, we’ve Skyped with that person 10 or 20 times, we know their sixth-graders and they know our sixth-graders and we swap YouTube videos. That’s our dream.”

 

TI is currently accepting applications and will continue to do so until Friday, April 6.

 

Admissions will be done through a lottery process, with the draw being held at 9 a.m. on April 13.

 

Pupils who reside within District 10, which encompasses a large swath of the northwest Bronx including Riverdale, Fordham and University Heights, will be given priority.

 

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