Brooklyn school at heart of charter school debate
by Andrew Shilling
Feb 12, 2014 | 3987 views | 3 3 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Eric Grannis, executive director of the Tapestry Project, first contacted Citizens of the World charter school after speaking with over 100 members of the North Brooklyn community, all of whom he said were looking for an alternative to public schooling in the neighborhood.

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.”

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D14 Parent
February 13, 2014

We opposed Citizens of the World a full year before the co-location hearing. There was wide opposition from the moment Citizens of the World started coming into our neighborhood and holding exclusive, private information sessions (in English only!) with wealthy, white parents. These were only held in two places: Northside Piers and Schaeffer Landing. And the public was not allowed in.

Then we saw their proposal, with a target of 55% white students, and that's when the opposition grew even more -- our current district schools are on average 59% Latino, 24% black, and only 12% white.

Read the comments from our community and all of our elected officials if you want to learn why the opposition grew so strong: 11C - Co-Location Hearing Summary - Citizens NY 1 FINAL.txt

The fact that Citizens of the World ignored the sentiment and came here anyway, taking away precious and scant resources from our already diverse existing schools, speaks volumes about their arrogant and downright Imperialist attitudes about education.

So, Mr. Comanduci, you could say this whole story relates to Brown vs. Board of Ed, but unfortunately you are on the losing side of it.

After all, how many people of color do you have as teachers, staff and board members? How many of your staff, administrators and board members lived in Brooklyn, or even New York, before they started working at Citizens of the World?

I would also ask why, among your predominantly low-income students of color, there have been so many suspensions merely halfway through the school year?

The answers to these questions alone tell the story.
February 13, 2014
On behalf of our 900 parents strong group, it is incredibly important to stress:

a) CWC WIlliamsburg is STILL on probation and they do not mention their CURRENT probationary status in any of their marketing materials or tours. When they do, they claim that they've fulfilled th terms of their probation. They have not. SUNY met and continued their probation.

b) This article did not mention that hundreds of local parents launched to close the school and the lawsuit is active. The school has no local support. None.

c) This article did not mention that well respected Congresswoman Velazquez launched an IRS investigation of the "sole corporate member" in charge of their schools because of evidence of fraud.

d) This article didn't mention the money funneled out of this school to their "sole corporate member"

e) Our State Senator and State Assemblyman put forward legislation compelling charter schools to inform the parents they recruit about their probationary status. This legislation specifically called out CWC Williamsburg.

We respect that Mr. Comanducci is trying to keep his job because he moved from New Orleans to take the position. That said, these are TAX dollars going to an unnecessary, undesired school co-located in the only neighborhood middle school in the area. This is horrible city planning at the least.

We URGE parents to find go deeper than what Mr. Comanducci or Principal Crock will tell you. Feel free to email: or contact our local elected officials for the real story. Our elected officials have no financial incentive to lie.

If you are interested in what CWC Williamsburg claims to offer, you will be more than happy with our neighborhood public schools. We've read through CWC's school proposal thoroughly, toured their schools, and been to their board meetings. Our neighborhood school model offers what CWC offers, but with more experienced teachers and the support from the community where they are housed.
Mark Comanducci
February 12, 2014
Both Citizens of the World schools in New York have fiscally sounds budgets approved by the schools’ authorizer, SUNY. Citizens of the World New York is currently going through the typical process of being incorporated as a non-profit organization, which we are confident will occur.