NYC Charter School Network Success Academy Expands in All the Wrong Places

October 9, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—With the State University of New York’s approval of 14 new Success Academy schools Wednesday, the biggest charter school network in the city is poised to get even bigger, with the new schools opening in the next two years.

Yet the communities where the schools will be located are not the ones that want them the most.

Success Academy started in 2006 with one school in Harlem. By 2010 it already had eight schools, mainly in Harlem and the Bronx, and it was gaining praise for achieving high state test scores with children from low-income neighborhoods. Charter schools are privately run but receive public funding and charge no tuition.

In recent years Success expanded into more affluent neighborhoods, like the Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, and Union Square. More opened up in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg.

But compared to the massive interest from parents in Success’s home bases in Harlem and the Bronx, demand in the higher-income neighborhoods is less pronounced. Of 10 schools in such neighborhoods, only one, in Prospect Heights, met its original planned enrollment. The rest are underenrolled, according to last year’s School Construction Authority data. 

Union Square and Hell’s Kitchen Success Academies were about 30 percent under their targets. Fort Greene and Crown Heights schools missed the bar by 20 to 30 percent. All four schools were opened last year, each aiming for 190 pupils in kindergarten and first grade.

Across the network of 32 schools, about 16,000 applied last year for 3,000 seats, according to Success. Most applications, over 1,200, came from district 9 in the Bronx, which only has one Success school.

Success can open up to four of the new schools in the Bronx, but its charter application allows it to open them further downtown in Manhattan or in a more affluent area in southeast Queens. The rest are planned in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and Corona and Forest Hills in Queens.

And there is opposition to the new schools from the communities slated to receive them.

Map of districts the new Success Academy schools approved to open. (Epoch Times)
Map of districts the new Success Academy schools approved to open. (Epoch Times)


Locations a Concern

Parent and former high school teacher Liz Rosenberg asked for feedback on the planned expansion on her website and quickly gathered over 250 responses, overwhelmingly negative. 

Respondents were largely from Park Slope, Corona in Queens, and Manhattan. They reasoned, sometimes at length, their neighborhoods already have good schools in need of more space and resources that a new Success school might use if it co-locates in an existing school.

Every third school in the city is overcrowded, Comptroller Scott Stringer said in July. The problem is particularly severe in some areas of Queens and Downtown Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to invest $4 billion toward some 33,000 new school seats by 2019. But that’s not even enough to cover about 40,000 more seats the city will need by 2018, according to enrollment projections.

Charter schools, on the other hand, have space guaranteed. Due to a change of the state charter law in May, the city has to provide every new charter school with space in its public school buildings, or pay rent for a private space. If both options fail, the city has to give the school additional rent money.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that Success Academy would open only one school in the Bronx. Actually, Success Academy can open up to four of the newly approved schools in the Bronx. Epoch Times regrets the error. 

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab