NYC Council Education Committee Hearing

The New York City Council Education Committee held a hearing October 2, to consider three important resolutions, Res. 1263-2012, Res. 1395-2012 and Res. 1906-2012, regarding school utilization. The resolutions call for a moratorium on school closings and co-locations for a period of at least a year, require CEC approval for school co-locations, and create new procedures for parental notification of proposed changes in school utilization. Numerous representatives from NYC’s public schools and education support organizations spoke out against the resolutions and the potential impact they could have. We think Arthur Samuels, Executive Director of MESA Charter High School in Brooklyn, did a great job of conveying to the Council his on-the-ground perspective:

Distinguished Committee Members,

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak. My name is Arthur Samuels, and I am the Executive Director of MESA Charter High School, a new charter high school that opened in Bushwick this year. We are one of the very few stand-alone charter high schools in New York City. There are over 180 charter schools here, but only 16 of them are high schools, and in fact MESA is the only independent, 9-12 charter high school to open in New York City this year. We opened on August 19, with 132 9th graders. 90% of our students receive free-or-reduced lunch, 15% of them are diagnosed with learning disabilities, and 25% are English Language Learners, all numbers higher than the district average.

While we have only been open for six weeks, we can claim some modest success so far. Our average daily attendance has been 96%, significantly higher than the 80% that most of the other high schools in District 32 average. More significantly, our punctuality rate has been 95%–we only have 3-4 late students per day, and they generally arrive no more than 5 minutes late. Our kids want to be at MESA. We have a hands-on STEM class and a four-year College Bound program. We are co-located, but have a collaborative relationship with the other two schools in our building, and we generally have the support of the community—the CEC President’s son is a freshman at MESA.

So here we are, an independent school collaborating with the community, providing a rigorous college prep education in a community where the high school graduation rate is 56%. But if the resolutions being considered today were adopted as binding law, we never would have come into existence.

We are not a charter network with multiple schools, nor do we have aspirations to become one. Our board of trustees is focused on governance and educational excellence, not fundraising. We simply do not have the capacity to pay for private space. We have been praised by our Committee on Special Education for constructing individualized programs responsive to our students’ needs, including a literacy program for our students who read at a first grade level, and bilingual literacy program for our ELLs who struggle with reading in both English and Spanish. If we had to pay for faculties, both of these would disappear. The three weeks of additional school that helped develop our culture—the one that gets 96% of our students to school on time every day–would also vanish.

I understand the challenges of colocation—my students live them every day. But the administrators of our building have been able to work together, and my students and the Bushwick community as a whole is indisputably better off for having MESA present. Small, independent, community-minded charters don’t get the same press as the bigger networks, but we will be the ones most impacted by changes in space utilization. As you consider these resolutions, I ask you to think of MESA as well.