The Bronx Charter School for Better Learning is planning to open its second location in vacant space in the M.S. 144 building, but not everyone is happy about that plan.
The building, near the intersection of Gun Hill Road and Allerton Avenue, is currently occupied by the Michelangelo Junior High School and the Pelham Gardens Middle School but is significantly under-utilized. According to the DOE, only about two-thirds of the space is used.
The proposal for the second location, BBL II, would place about 75 kindergartners to the school this fall, adding a grade each year until the K-5 school is full.
But some members of district 11’s Community Education Council feel that bringing an elementary charter school in is not the best use for the space, said president Pamela Johnson.
The CEC successfully fought plans for an Icahn Charter School trying to locate there in 2013.
“It’s at the expense of students in the community,” said Johnson about the plan.
Her primary objection is that District 11 is over crowded. Johnson said the district desperately needs more middle school seats, and using space for a K-5 charter doesn’t make sense.
Additionally, there are several schools in the district still using transportable classroom units that are dilapidated and inconvenient, and she wants those students moved out of trailers in to main buildings.
Lastly, Johnson said the CEC has asked the DOE over the years to put special programs, like a gifted and talented program, in the building.
“There are things we could do with that space,” said Johnson.
But while Johnson feels that opening BBL II would not best serve the students of District 11, BBL executive director Kevin Brennan disagrees.
The original BBL in Baychester was founded 11 years ago to specifically serve students from the northeast Bronx, said Brennan. The elementary school has a significantly large waiting list each year, which was why the board decided to open a second location nearby.
“This is about creating more seats for students,” he said.
Those seats are filled almost exclusively from District 11 because of the priority for local students in the admissions lottery, said Brennan, which will be the case at BBL II as well.
The school offers parents in the district an additional option for their child’s education, which is a plus, said Brennan.
Brennan also feels the co-location itself is a plus. His experience working with K-8 schools while a county superintendent in New Jersey showed him that interaction between older and younger students in mentorship roles can be beneficial for both students.
Additionally, BBL’s co-location with P.S. 111 has been successful, creating opportunities for collaboration among staff and the sharing of resources.
And although the school doesn’t consider test scores the only mark of a good education, Brennan said BBL students are high performing on assessments and are accepted to competitive middle schools, where they go on to do well.
“Our students have been very successful,” said Brennan.
According to the DOE, BBL performs well in comparison to schools within the district and across New York City.
In the previous school year, BBL ranked in the 81st percentile for citywide and 96th percentile for district-wide English Language Arts proficiency scores, and ranked in the 87th percentile for citywide and 91st percentile for district-wide math proficiency scores.
“Given BBL’s record of success and the need for additional elementary school seats in the Bronx resulting from kindergarten and elementary school enrollment growth, the DOE supports the placement of BBL II in District 11,” reads a statement from the DOE.
A public hearing on the proposal will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, February 9 at M.S. 144, 2545 Gunther Ave.