The 30 Schools in 30 Days project will highlight a different New York State charter school each day, featuring each school's successes, and the challenges that come from being denied access to state facilities funding. Perhaps most important, each school leader has a message for state lawmakers in Albany: please find a solution to the facilities funding problem and allow ALL of the state's charter schools access to building aid this year.
Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School opened in 2013 in a district that had been notorious for lacking high-quality middle schools for years. Seeing this glaring problem, some community members stepped up to open a new school and give families an option.
Co-founder and Senior Director of Policy and External Affairs, Miriam Nunberg, said she wanted to found a charter school because of both the opportunity for community input drawn from a board of directors as well as the lottery admissions process.
“We wanted a transparent admissions method. Equity of access for all students is very important to us,” said Nunberg, who is a former civil rights attorney.
The school currently serves grades 6-7 but will grow to full capacity as a 6-8 school next year.
The name says it all. The school’s model is very unique and centers on eco-literacy in an urban setting. The school uses a hands-on, inquiry-based approach. One very special part of the school is that the children design, build and maintain an on-site garden.
Nunberg said, “We aim to be a model of innovative and visionary educational practices. We’re steeped in the notion that it is crucial to get kids outside and exposed to the environment.”
“The kids are thriving. They’re exploring gardens, farmers’ markets, and they’re taking pride in our gardens and outside spaces,” she said. “Even some of our more
challenging students are taking part in creating our beautiful outdoor space.”
Nunberg calls opening a charter school in an already over-crowded district a “labor of love”. They applied for DOE space but there was none available.
So as not to be a burden to the overcrowding in its home district, BUGS has been paying for a private facility during its financially challenging start up years. Aside from the challenge of funds, it has been extremely hard to find a place they could afford during its ramp-up years and where the school could also grow to serve 300 children at full capacity.
“Renegotiating our lease takes up an enormous amount of time, attention and worry. Every dollar that we spend comes directly from our operating budget.
We have to compete with anybody – this is a desirable space in New York City.”
She goes on, “We’re independent. We’re not funded by a hedge fund or big investor. We operate out of our per pupil funding.”
Nunberg reiterated her intentions in wanting to open a school, saying, “We don’t handpick anyone; we take anyone. We believe in what we are doing. But the facilities funding issue hurts. We have made an appeal to the Commissioner on this issue, but have as yet not received an answer. The facility issue keeps getting in the way of being the school we want to be, by draining our resources and time.”
She has a message to lawmakers about this issue: “We are a public school that serves students from a very diverse background in one of the more uniquely integrated middle schools in Brooklyn. We believe our students deserve their fair share.”
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