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Break for parents as Rockaway Park charter school school stays open

Published: May 25, 2012

Publication: New York Daily News

By Clare Trapasso

Queens Supreme Court Justice to decide its fate in 60 to 90 days


Ericka Wala, principal of the Peninsula Prepatory Academy Charter School, wants to keep the school open, as do many parents, who are fighting the city Education Department in court.

A Rockaway Park charter school won a temporary reprieve on Thursday after parents went to court in a last-ditch effort to keep the elementary school open.

Queens Supreme Court Justice Diccia Pineda-Kirwan ruled that Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School will remain open until she comes to a decision on its fate. It is expected to take 60 to 90 days.

The city decided not to renew the K-through-5 school’s charter earlier this year due to poor performance. Peninsula, which state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) helped found in 2004, earned a “C” on its annual city report card.

But school officials and parents claim the charter has outperformed many of the public schools on the peninsula.

“It’s a great school,” said Parent Teacher Organization Co-President Lisa George.

“We don’t have to worry about a lot of things the surrounding schools go through. There’s no fighting, there’s no gangs, there’s no violence.”

“One of the major things bothering the parents is that the schools that our parents are being referred to have not outscored or beaten Peninsula,” she said.

Principal Ericka Wala said the school ran into trouble only after the state raised the minimum proficiency standards on its annual exams in 2010.

Fewer than 75% of Peninsula students earned proficient scores on the tests — which was a key part of the school’s charter.

“We have evidence of a positive trajectory,” Wala said of her students, who predominantly hail from low-income, minority families. “We have out-performed . . . the schools [the city\] is sending the children back to.”

Lawyers for the charter and its parents said they were optimistic that the school will remain open.

Attorney Arthur Schwartz, who is representing 99 parents at the school, said the judge’s decision means Peninsula can still apply for the money it needs for the next school year.

“The judge is basically ensuring that the school has the funds in place to keep its staff around,” he said.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, a group that provides support services for charters, said he wasn’t opposed to the city’s decision to shutter the school.

“The Department of Education’s decision to close it was reasonable and consistent with the notion that charters should be held to higher standards than traditional district schools,” he said.

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