By Rob Callaghan
Earlier this school year, Opportunity Charter School (OCS) of Harlem was targeted by the city Department of Education (DOE) for closure. The school’s charter was up for renewal and the DOE has placed the school on its “early engagement” list. The news came as a shock to parents, teachers and the school’s administration given the school’s success with students with special needs. Some parents and teachers expressed concern that OCS has been put on this list to create more space for Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 4, which shares space in the same building. Opportunity is one of three schools, along with Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts and Frederick Douglass Academy II, that are colocated with Harlem Success schools and were put on the “closure list.”
Throughout the winter, the entire Opportunity Charter School community rallied in support of the schools’ renewal. Parents, teachers and students held a series of rallies at the school where they expressed their unwavering support for the school’s mission and questioned the motives for shuttering the school.
At a rally held at the school, United Federation of Teachers Vice President Leo Casey reaffirmed the UFT’s commitment to the teachers, parents and students of OCS. He noted the school’s achievements with special needs students and questioned the motivation for closing the school, “If a decision about Opportunity Charter School is made based solely on education and not political reasons, it cannot be closed,” said Dr. Casey. He left the stage to thunderous applause from the assembled crowd. Despite losing her voice, parent teacher association president Shire Tribble addressed the crowd with the help of math teacher and basketball coach Natasha Seabrook who read a statement on Ms Tribble’s behalf.
When asked about her daughter’s school, Ms. Tribble questioned the logic of closing down a school like OCS, “Opportunity is the only school that serves this many students with IEPs,” she said, “OCS has been very successful serving these students, so why would they be put on this list?”
About half of Opportunity’s students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and many of the students entered the school having fallen behind. The school has been very successful serving these high needs students and helping them successfully graduate high school; the school’s special education graduation rate was almost double the city’s average for special needs students.
In January 2012, the New York State Departmentof Education finally granted a two-year renewal to Opportunity Charter School, allowing it to continue to fulfill its mission to serve students with special education needs. These events serve as a reminder othe important place Opportunity has in the Harlem community. Students, parents, teachers and alumni are committed to making sure the school remains open to fulfill its unique vision. Third-year assistant teacher Crystal Chandler noted the crucial role Opportunity serves, “It’s essential to keep OCS open. We serve every student that walks through those doors – no matter what. There is no reason we should’ve been on this list. We are Harlem’s success!”