It was after Grannis said he read an article in the New York Times back on Jan. 21, 2011, called “Williamsburg, Toddlertown,” that he first began reaching out to the parents interviewed in the article, and delving deeper into working with his organization to find out just what the neighborhood wanted.
“I called to meet with the parents involved in that article, and there was a lot of interest,” Grannis said, recalling discussions about adding a new charter school at numerous dinner parties and meetings with those living in the neighborhood. “Someone mentioned Citizens of the World, I called them up, and they said they were thinking of expanding.”
Just two years later, the California-based charter school was on its way, and just recently opened this past fall in both Williamsburg and Crown Heights.
After the Citizens of the World first opened their Williamsburg branch with a rocky start, generating nearly 100 applicants but only seeing 56 students when it opened its doors in September, they were immediately placed on probation by SUNY and the Department of Education (DOE).
Although they have gotten their enrollment to 106 as of late December 2013, above the 100 students recommended by SUNY, the school’s authorizers, there has still been consistent backlash from the community.
Brook Parker, a founding member of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents for Our Public Schools (WAGPOPS), has been against the idea of an outside-charter school in her community since the start, and says the California-based school has no place in Brooklyn.
“No school has raised as many red flags as they have,” Parker said. “They're financially unstable, they don’t have non-profit status, one kid from the neighborhood goes there, and we’re paying for bussing.”
In the growing heated debate of whether charter schools should have a place in New York City, Parker and WAGPOPS have protested the Citizens of the World from the time they first caught wind of a plan to co-locate the school inside M.S. 126, the second charter school to take up space in the A-ranked public school building, located at 424 Leonard St.
“It’s not effective if no kid in the neighborhood goes there,” she said.
Parker also said the school has a flawed system in providing a diverse base, numbers that are not representative of North Brooklyn.
“They have targets, and their target is 55 percent white students,” she said. “Is that their concept of diversity?”
Mark Comanduci, executive director of the Citizens of the World Charter Schools of New York, defended his school to the claims made by numerous community organizations.
“This is like a ‘Brown vs. the Board of Education issue focused around race, ethnicity and income,” Comanducci said. “I cannot believe a community group would want to shutter schools that are largely serving families that qualify for free or reduced meals and which serve so many families of color."
He added, "As of data from early January, at CWC Williamsburg, 90 percent of families qualify for free or reduced meals, 66 percent of the families are Latino and 29 percent of the families are African American. At CWC Crown Heights, 89 percent of families qualify for free or reduced meals and 93 percent of the families are African American."
Comanducci also said the school has worked closely with the Department of Education (DOE) and SUNY in regards to adhering to their probation requirements.
“We have been completely transparent due to our probation, and the biggest ally in increasing our enrollment was our parents,” Commanducci said. “This wasn’t us just saying we need more kids of a larger school, our authorizer (SUNY) said we needed to get over 100 and we met that target.”
He denounced other claims that the school would be on an indefinite probationary period, and said he is hopeful the current year-long probation status would be lifted following their next board meeting with SUNY later this month.
“We have provided SUNY with updates on a weekly basis and we will be working with them so they continue to know our numbers, along with the Department of Education,” he said. “That being said, we have over 200 applications for next year.”