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Flap Over N.Y.C. Site Derails Multiage School

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Plans for a new multiage school in New York City that would allow young students to attend school in the same building as their teenage siblings or parents have been put on hold because district parents are protesting the intended site.

The proposed Ella Baker School would be part of the larger Julia Richman Education Complex in Manhattan's Community School District 2. According to Stephen Phillips, the system's superintendent for alternative schools, the proposed school would enroll elementary and high school students.

The community school board was scheduled to vote late last month on a proposal to approve the school, but that vote was postponed by District 2 Superintendent Anthony Alvarado after parents said they wanted a traditional high school on the site.

The Baker School was planned to occupy space in the former home of Julia Richman High School, which opened in 1927 as an all-girls academy.

In 1993, the Center for Collaborative Education, a New York City affiliate of the Coalition of Essential Schools, based at Brown University, worked with the city school system to design a plan for Julia Richman. The center took over the ailing school and opened six smaller schools within the same structure. (See Education Week, March 22, 1995.)

Battle for Space

Organizers of the Baker School, which is set to open next fall, said multiage public schools are unusual. "You see this done all the time in private schools," said Ann Cook, the project director for the Urban Academy, one of the schools at Julia Richman. "Teenage mothers and fathers would be able to attend school in the same building as their children in our early Head Start program.

"We establish continuity with the children because they can continue to go to school here until they graduate," Ms. Cook added.

But parents in District 2 have said that the Ella Baker School would take up the last available space for a badly needed community high school.

"No one has engaged us in a dialogue or decisionmaking process," said Patricia Sliwak-Grinberg, the president of the Parents Coalition for an East Side High School and a candidate for the school board.

But Ms. Cook said the community had given up on the school years ago and only wants the space because it is being renovated.

"I have no problem that they [the coalition] want a school," Ms. Cook said. "Just not in this space."

The Baker School project grew out of early discussions on what to do with the Julia Richman complex, Ms. Cook said. "We never wanted an aggregate school of only adolescents," she said. "We wanted all different ages."

Other school supporters say the children are getting caught in the crossfire of adult disagreements.

"This is a real estate issue," Mr. Phillips said.

Andrew Lackman, a spokesman for District 2, said: "Mr. Alvarado wants to develop a plan that will meet the needs of the parents who want a high school on the East Side."

The school board will vote this month on the proposal for the multiage school.

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