Elite private school to be built near Red Hook Houses, by George Fiala

A private K-12 school catering to parents who can afford $23,500 annual tuition is about to receive a variance allowing it to be constructed in Red Hook. It will be built on what is now a truck parking lot at 556 Columbia Street. That location is across from Red Hook Park, close to IKEA and about two blocks from the Red Hook Houses.

568 Columbia, proposed future home of BASIS independent school.

568 Columbia, proposed future home of BASIS independent school.

The operators of the school, BASIS Independent, run a number of charter schools in Arizona, Texas and Washington DC. The company is owned by a husband and wife who were granted their first charter school in Tucson, Arizona in 1998. They opened a second in 2003, and have received the support of Craig Barret, founder of the Intel Corporation, who is used to promote the schools on their website.

Preparation for this school began as early as last summer, when a builder contracted by BASIS had an environmental study performed on the property. The only obstacle they now face is approval from the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for a special use variance to operate a school in an M-1-1 Special Mixed Use site. That hearing is scheduled for December 15. They have already received approval from a CB 6 committee at a meeting at the Miccio Center held on November 14th. The CB6 Executive Board is expected to rubber stamp it’s approval at their December 11th Executive Board meeting.
Not much publicity
For those not paying attention, a for-profit private school two blocks away from the Red Hook Houses comes as a complete surprise. Meeting notices were only required to be posted up to 400 feet away from the property, an area pretty much unoccupied. Neither Lillie Marshall or Dorothy Shields, presidents of the East and West tenant associations, were notified. Wally Bazemore, well known local activist living on Columbia Street was surprised to hear about this plan when contacted by the Star-Revue. Red Hook investigator John McGettrick only found out by scanning upcoming hearings of the Board of Standards and Appeals. Dan Wiley, from Nydia Velazquez’s office, stated that since no government funding is asked for, BSA approval is probably all they will need to start building.

According to DNAinfo, a representative from BASIS told CB6 that they chose Red Hook because of its proximity to Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Williamsburg, but that he also hoped the school “could help Red Hook as well.”

Although no one at the Red Hook Houses had any inkling of this new neighbor, parents of potential students have been received at informational meetings that take place virtually every day at 20 Jay Street. They already have an information number (929-210-1362) and a website (www.basisindependentbrooklyn.com).

Basis is very open about their educational philosophy. As described on the website: “A for-profit independent school is a business. The school is owned by its investors and like any business, to thrive the school must satisfy its customers, our parents and grandparents, who pay the tuition. Our objective as a business is simple: to offer a world-quality learning experience at an exceptional value.”

As with most private schools, BASIS is marketed by the success of its students. However, critics such as Diane Ravitch point out that as with many charter schools, students who are forecast not to do well are weeded out by the time of high school. Well known Arizona education blogger David Safier writes: “The problem with The Legend is, it ignores the fact that BASIS students are a highly select group, especially by the time they make it to high school. Students who can’t make the grade fall by the wayside before they make it to their senior year. Most of the students who succeed would excel wherever they were — district, charter or private school. BASIS’ reputation for excellence has far more to do with the students who manage to survive the schools’ rigor than the quality of the education offered. If you have reasonably good teachers presenting demanding material to the top-level students who survive at BASIS, you can be guaranteed they’ll ace all the tests that come their way.

The question for Red Hook, especially those living in the Front, is whether hosting an elite private school is a desirable future for the neighborhood. By changing its business model from a charter school to an independent private school, BASIS has been able to avoid that discussion for now.

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