Contested ‘Tweed’ Charter School Now Recruiting Students

As Downtown school activists continue their opposition to Innovate Manhattan charter middle school moving into Tweed Courthouse this fall, the experimental school is ramping up its recruitment efforts in District 2 this month. The first in a series of open information sessions was held Feb 2 at the Downtown Community Center.

The Department of Education has proposed the school for the site but opponents, backed by Community Board 1, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other elected officials, say those seats will be needed to ease crowding in local elementary schools when P.S. 397 vacates the space for its new building on Spruce Street. Department of Education officials say that Tweed, where they are headquartered, is just the place to observe the workings of this experimental school, modeled after 33 middle and high schools in Sweden run by the for-profit company Kunskapsskolan.

“I hesitate to get so involved in the negativity of the debate when what’s missing in this is a really interesting kind of educational option that the kids in Tribeca are going to love,” said Peg Hoey, president of the American branch of Kunskapsskolan, who is spearheading the company’s efforts in New York.

In a telephone interview, Hoey said she “honors” the concerns of those who oppose her school, but added, “Those are their concerns. And there are other groups who want a new middle school. And particularly would like a new, very different kind of middle school for their children. So I think that it’s unfortunate that the debate only becomes about the location.”

Hoey has yet to receive the go-ahead from the DOE for Tweed, but is proceeding as though it will happen. She said she has received 300 inquiries from interested parents. Priority would be given to children in District 2, who would be chosen by lottery.

Individual goal setting is the main principle behind the school model, called KED. Hoey said each student would meet for 15 minutes every week with his “coach,” a teacher who acts as his advisor for all three years. The teacher keeps tabs on the child’s progress towards the goals set for him—and the “learning strategies” to meet them. (The school would start with only a 6th and 7th grade.)

Children would be assessed and placed in mixed-age English, math and Spanish classes, according to their level. They stay with their grade in social studies, science and the arts, which are taught around a single theme. Hoey said she hopes the Tweed spaces can be separated with the transparent dividers used in the Swedish KED system.

“We use space very differently. [But] it’s not the 1970s open classroom model,” she said adamantly.

Asked about a gym and physical education, Hoey called it a “common problem among charter schools.” She mentioned the lawn outside the school, now play space for 5- and 6- year-olds, and the uncertain possibility of a large room inside Tweed, or renting space in a gym.

“We’re very close to the parks,” she said, apparently referring to City Hall Park. “You have a lot of options.”

She said their funding from the DOE  cannot be used for after-school programs, which could offer team sports like those at I.S. 89 and I.S. 276. The first year they will be trying to prove themselves to outside funders, she said, with hopes that the next year that funding would be available for the program.

In the meantime, Hoey and Kunskapsskolan await official word on whether the locally controversial school can move into the space.
“We will know,” Hoey said, “when the DOE says, “Yes, you’re there, and here’s your contract.”

Just when that will be is not clear. In an e-mail to the Trib, DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld wrote that Innovate Manhattan is “one of the main options we are considering,” a possible indication that officials may be wavering in their support of Tweed for the school’s site. “We look at the space we have available district-wide to decide how best to use Tweed space," Zarin-Rosenfeld wroe.