Sunset Park students urge DOE to keep two schools separate

June 23, 2011 Heather Chin
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When Madeline Sturgill transferred to Sunset Park High School(SPHS) this February, she had already attended two different highschools in Brooklyn and, by her own admission, didn’t care aboutschool and had a zero average.

But in five short months, the bubbly 10th grader has turned heracademic career around, thriving on the individual attention fromteachers and counselors, and forming friendships in the close-knitstudent body. She now has a 90 average and a starring role in anupcoming school theater production.

Since I enrolled in SPHS, I found a family in other studentsand so much support from my teachers, said Sturgill, who, alongwith pals Jonathan Cournier, Elizabeth Palmer and CamilleLiverpool, spoke at the June 21 public hearing on the Department ofEducation’s (DOE) proposal to continue housing Brooklyn ProspectCharter School inside their building for another school year.

[My success] is because of the [self-contained] design of ourschool and the care of our staff and students, she said. Liverpoolconcurred, stating that, I take my education seriously, and Idon’t think it’s fair that because of your downfall, my educationshould be suffering. My education is not something that should beplayed with.

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This sentiment was shared amongst the crowd of over 100students, parents, faculty members, counselors and neighbors ofSunset Park High School and Brooklyn Prospect Charter School who,in a show of solidarity, formed a human wall in front of theirshared school building at 153 35th Street, protesting thecontroversial DOE proposal.

Armed with signs and chants declaring that I Do Matter, TheStudents, United, Will Never Be Defeated, and Sunset ParkDeserves Quality Education, the assembled school communityreiterated their belief that forcing both schools to share abuilding next year would irrevocably weaken academic,extracurricular and after-school curricula.

Over the 2011-2012 school year, both SPHS and Brooklyn Prospectwould be adding a new graduating class, which together would addover 500 students to space in a building that, according to theDOE, would not be distributed any differently. This would put thebuilding between six to 10 percent over capacity.

When the two schools originally agreed to share space in 2009,it was under a DOE agreement that there would be a two-year timelimit, to allow for Brooklyn Prospect’s permanent home in BoerumHill to be built. This year, construction on that new home slowed,but also stalled were initial plans to move the charter school intoother school buildings. So, in mid-April, the DOE proposed that thestudent body stay put for a year.

Will there be another delay required? Will this schoolcommunity ever be allowed to grow and prosper, asked Ana Ramos, aspokesperson for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who isagainst the continued co-location. This is the DOE decision not tofulfill their responsibility to everyone. It is unfair to all.

Congressmember Nydia Velazquez agreed, her spokesperson, DanWiley, stating that this is not going to work, pushing numbersaround, compromising programs and enrichment. We want to see asolution that doesn’t compromise [education] of students in SunsetPark.

Nearly 50 community members testified at the public hearing,which had an air of hope and well-channeled enthusiasm. Parents ofall ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds spoke about being thrilledat having a strong local school option for their kids. Communityadvocates spoke about how they had to fight for 40 years to evenget a high school in the first place and they weren’t about to letthat be taken away. Youth counselors from the Center For FamilyLife spoke about working with amazing kids every day whose talentsand skills are too often ignored.

You talk about this being a one year impact? This will be ourfirst graduating class – that will build a school culture that, Ihave seen it happen in schools, will create a more failing school,said a SPHS teacher. So for all the talk the DOE has about failingschools and we need to turn them around, you have a successfulschool here. Why are we not keeping it?

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