Representatives from the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn presented plans for the Sosúa Hebrew Language Academy Charter School to the Community Board 12 Youth and Education Committee at its monthly meeting on Jan. 13.
Enough committee members felt the school’s charter application was being rushed and not enough public discussion had taken place that the committee did not pass a resolution in support of the application. Ultimately the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter School Institute will determine whether or not the charter is granted.
If approved, Sosúa Hebrew Language Academy will be a free public charter school serving 150 students in grades K-1 its first school year. Each year, the school will grow by one grade until the fifth year of its charter; it will then have approximately 450 students in grades K-5.
Charter schools, like regular public schools, are publicly funded but operate with greater autonomy from the Department of Education.
During the presentation, Rabbi David Gedzelaman, officer for the board of directors at the Hebrew Charter School Center, highlighted the fact that the school was not designed as a religious school and that it would follow all the guidelines that any other public school would follow regarding religion. “There is no religious element to this model, we are simply teaching Hebrew, the language, without having anything to do with the religion,” said Gedzelman.
The charter school, slated to open in the fall of 2012 if approved by the state, will be open to all children residing in Community School District 6, who will be admitted through a random lottery application process.
Hebrew Charter School Center officials also said that they did not want to occupy an existing school space, but would rather acquire their own school building. In addition, the school plans to have 25 students in each class and three classes per grade. Each class will have two teachers, one for general education and one for Hebrew language training, resulting in a student-teacher ratio of about 12 to 1.
Sosúa Hebrew Language Academy would have an extended school day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a 190-day school year.
According to Hebrew Charter School Center officials, the curriculum at the new school will be designed to target the needs of children whose first language may not be English, considering Northern Manhattan’s demographics. Maureen Campbell, principal at the Hebrew Language Academy Charter school in Brooklyn, which is serving as a model for Sosua, said that children who learn in a bilingual environment often do better academically and have an easier time learning a second and even a third language.
The proposal for the school was welcomed by some CB12 committee members, and contested by members of the public who questioned the amount of diversity that the school will have, considering its Hebrew language-oriented curriculum.
However Hebrew Charter School Center representatives said their school in Brooklyn has children of all ethnic backgrounds, as well as a diverse teaching staff.
The name of the proposed school, Sosúa, is the name of a town in the Dominican Republic that during World War II offered to accept up to 100,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. Many settled in Sosúa where the Dominican government provided them with land and resources.
“Sosúa represents how one community helped another when the rest of the world was silent,” said Rabbi Gedzelman. “This is why we chose this name for our school.”