It was only seven months ago when the administration of the International Leadership Charter School broke ground on its middle school one block away from its West 231st Street campus. Evelyn Velez, the school curriculum and instruction director for the new school at the time boasted about how supportive the community was.
That rosy picture has faded quite a lot since then. Last week saw dueling rallies over the school, which initially was expected to open next year at 306 W. 232nd St. The community support — at least from residents at The Edwardian, Tibbett Towers and Corlear Gardens — has turned into a campaign to stop the school construction.
On top of that, the construction site has a stop order from the city’s buildings department due to flooding. And before that, Velez offered her resignation after claiming in a letter she had to receive a Covid-19 Bivalent vaccination to keep her job. Elaine Ruiz López, the founder and chief executive of the charter school, would not comment on the resignation. While not related, after the campaign to stop the middle school started.
What caused all this tension in the first place? It’s a case of NIMBYism from those neighbors egged on by such electeds as Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, his son, Councilman Eric Dinowitz, and state Sen. Robert Jackson. The NIMBYs argue the school’s footprint of 5,000 square feet isn’t enough to house a school. They also say traffic will be a huge problem for them, especially since there is no parking lot proposed. And flooding at the construction site is troublesome.
Neighbors seem more upset over the fact they weren’t alerted to the construction of the school in their neighborhood until it was already approved. They signed a petition asking to stop the construction earlier this year to no avail.
After the first Stop the Charter School rally on April 17, there were police reports of vandalism at the site. In one act, someone glued and taped the master lock to the fence at the site’s entrance.
In another act, police said a person cut the wires to the surveillance wires and cracked one of the cameras.
While there are no suspects in the vandalism, the Stop the Charter School group denied any involvement, and the electeds either called the charges a “ruse” or “rumors.” Jackson told people not to “believe the hype.”
Then the anti-charter school group scheduled a second rally for May 13 that would lead from the high school to the proposed middle school.
The Parents United for the International Leadership Charter Schools and the Black, Latinx, Asian Charter Collaborative decided to take matters into their own hands by planning a pro-rally on May 10. Except, their rally took a detour to the Assemblyman’s office, and included dozens of students.
The pro-charter school parents and students back what López has been saying all along about the high school and proposed middle school.
“We are providing a high-quality education to dis-enfranchised communities of color to help them thrive and become contributors to society,” she said.
“We cannot afford to allow NIMBYism to deny an education to middle school students who live in the Kingsbridge community.”
Since the high school first opened its doors in 2006 to 88 incoming freshmen, it has earned many achievements. That first class saw 95 percent of its students graduate — many of whom went on to be the first in their family to attend college. This accomplishment culminated in the U.S. News & World Report naming the school one of the best nationally.
This battle of NIMBYism versus education for students of color has not reflected well on the school’s community. Instead of holding rallies that most likely won’t lead to any definitive action before the school is opened next year, the NIMBYs should ask for meetings with the administration to work out how to address their concerns. For example, to address the traffic issue, why not offer a shuttle between both schools so that pickup takes place at the high school or some other neutral site?
These rallies could go on for a year until the building is complete. And that would only frustrate both sides further and possibly cause more vandalism. The bottom line is the middle school is about the students. That should not be forgotten.
Providing a top-notch education for Kingsbridge students of color is the most important issue here. As the high school continues to succeed, it will need a middle school as a feeder, just as public schools do. That is not the case for private and parochial schools, which are too expensive for most poorer Kingsbridge families.
We support better education over NIMBYism any day.