School co-locations don’t have to be a bad thing.
My children both attended schools in one of the city’s oldest multi-school sites, the Julia Richman Education Complex on the Upper East Side. JREC is a prime example of effective school co-location. The building serves a diverse student population: preschoolers, middle schoolers, English Language Learners, future performing artists, children with autism who share resources and even classes at times. Herb Mack, a co-principal of Urban Academy High School, located on JREC’s campus, told me that staff from each school have met weekly for the last 15 years to make sure the campus functions effectively and in the interests of the children who attend school there. Unfortunately, the city has proposed disrupting the successful co-location at JREC by moving the schools more than 40 blocks south and giving the site to Hunter College.
The problem with co-location right now is the arbitrary process that decides which schools will share space — or more correctly, it’s the lack of a process that is transparent, accountable, and inclusive. To that end I propose a moratorium on co-locations until the following “seven rules of co-location” are implemented:
- All district schools that the Department of Education considers to be underutilized must undergo a comprehensive review and analysis of current utilization by an independent entity (such as the Independent Budget Office) to assess the availability of space and the potential impact of co-location on the existing school. All findings of the independent review should be considered binding.
- Schools, parents and community members (including elected community education councils) must be informed before a review begins that they are being considered for co-location. They must have the opportunity to meet and discuss the possibility of co-location. Currently, co-locating charter schools are discouraged from opening up communication with district schools before a decision has been finalized.
- No space allotted for mandated classes such as special education, physical education, music, art or science instruction, or for any school improvement strategies such as small group tutoring and teacher professional development can be deconstructed to provide space for newly co-locating schools.
- To ensure successful co-tenancy, schools that are identified for co-location must establish planning teams of principals, teachers, parents, students and school staff to facilitate the relationship between schools and work out conflicts.
- All renovations and capital improvements that impact site structure such as painting, plumbing, heating and cooling, and electrical systems should be done on the entire building, not just for the newly co-locating school.
- To prevent a two-tiered system, co-locating charter schools must be required to retain students for the entire school year except in extreme circumstances — just like district schools — and be prohibited from expelling or “counseling out” the highest-needs students and sending them back to a district school.
- If the co-located district school is a low-performing school, there must be mechanisms in place to help that school turn around. Recommendations issued by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice in its recent report “Proposal for a Significant Change in NYC DOE Policy and Practice Regarding School Closings” support the implementation of the best instructional practices of charter schools and traditional public schools. This will discourage a situation where the DOE waits for low-performing district schools to die, in order to free up space for a charter school to move in.
I do not profess to have the perfect solution to resolving the space wars, but the DOE must stop playing games with our children’s future. Adopting these rules of engagement would go a long way towards ensuring that all schools are given the opportunity to thrive without creating and perpetuating a two-tiered system of educational apartheid. The time to play fair is now. We need a co-location process that is fair and just for all.
Carol Boyd is the parent of two children in New York City public schools: a senior at Urban Academy and a freshman at Lower Manhattan Arts Academy. The product of the city’s public schools herself, Boyd is a parent leader of the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice.