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Charter school takes Solace in new space

The Bronx Charter School of Excellence has grown too big for its building, and as a result has opened up a new middle school facility in the Morris Park area.

The school, which has its main facilities on Benedict Avenue, recently opened its doors in the old Our Lady of Solace annex on Holland Avenue. So far the school is only for grades five and six, but officials are hoping within two years it will be a full fifth through eighth grade middle school.

“Our mission is to cultivate students from kindergarten through eighth grade to be well-rounded,” Charlene Reid, the school principal and founder, said. “So this is a big step that will allow us to complete our goals.”

The 1,200-square-foot Holland Avenue facility is home to a total of 104 students, with two classes per grade, and 26 kids per class.

The building was formerly the school for the Our Lady of Solace parish, but has been abandoned since 2006.

Although many of the older students are from the Castle Hill and south Bronx area, because of the preference laws, the school now mostly accepts children from Education District 11, which includes students from Community Boards 11 and 12.

The school began leasing the facility in August.

For the past month the school has been rushing to complete a $400,000 renovation of the electric and plumbing systems, as well as exterior masonry work. The renovations will bring the building up to code with the strict standards for public schools.

The facility includes a gymnasium, an auditorium, a media center and library space. Work is continuing on an art and music room as well.

“It’s going well so far,” Reid said. “It seems odd to have only 100 kids in it right now. Especially when you’re leaving one campus with 300, but it’s small and contained. The kids love it. They’re very happy.”

Unlike most charter schools, the Bronx Charter School of Excellence does not have a theme, Reid said. The school is aimed at producing students that thrive in all academic areas and to prepare them for top schools across the country.

Two years ago the school was forced to graduate its first elementary school class because there was no space to teach the kids.

Expanding into the new building will not only allow the school to continue to grow, it will also allow students to develop in line with the school’s mission, Reid said.

“We’re trying to get them to be more independent. At the elementary school they highly supervised, but with the new middle school there are some more freedoms,” she said. “We are able to do things differently. We can help them to become more independent thinkers.”

Although some community residents have expressed concern about the charter school moving into the space, Reid said the feedback she has heard has been mostly positive.

For Joe Bombace, a board member of the parish council committee, the new school is good for the church, the school and the neighborhood.

“Who wants to see an empty building, sitting there decaying, not utilized?” Bombace asked. “We had to weigh the pros and cons, but this does benefit the community. It’s for the education of children that live all over in school district 11.”

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