From political offices to school classrooms, the air in Harlem is heavy with apprehension.
Since the New York City Council Zoning and Franchises Committee voted Tuesday to approve a modified version of plans to sweepingly change 125th Street—ensuring likely passage at an upcoming full Council vote—many fear that their beloved neighborhood will soon become unrecognizable. As in the case of any community change, longtime residents wonder how their children will be impacted.
At a Harlem Tenants Council meeting, local activist Luis Tejada expressed concern about the developers saying, “They don’t care about the future, or about the children of this neighborhood.”
Today, eyes will turn to Harlem’s youth as many parents enter what promises to be the largest charter school lottery in New York history. This evening, city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein will speak at the Harlem Armory and address a controversy surrounding P.S. 123 and an area charter school that has brought local tensions about gentrification, community identity, and hope for the next generation to the surface.
Former Upper East Side City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, now executive director of the Harlem Success Academy Charter School, seeks to place her school within P.S. 123. at West 140th Street. According to Moskowitz, former chair of the City Council Education Committee, the charter school received 3,600 applications for fewer than 600 spots, and 40 percent of Central Harlem’s eligible students applied for next fall’s kindergarten class. She hopes the move will allow her program to accommodate more students and to offer an enhanced academic environment to a greater number of local children.
But State Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem) argued that Moskowitz has the wrong answer. When Moskowitz compared the conflict surrounding the division of P.S. 123’s classrooms to that of Middle East land disputes in the New York Daily News earlier this month, Wright issued a press release calling her comments “ignorant, offensive, and alienating towards the community she hopes to serve.” In the same release, he added that, “This is not the way for Harlem Success Academy to get things done in Harlem and this culture of confrontation will not benefit anyone in the long run.”
Wright seeks to thwart Moskowitz’s efforts to place her charter school classes within public school space. “The way to protect our children’s educational opportunity is not by piggybacking off of our already overburdened public school system,” he said. “Nor is it by waging war against the current students and families of P.S. 123, as Mrs. Moskowitz is attempting to do. The way to protect the educational system is by working together towards a common goal, not battling for space using such charged and divisive terminology.”
The fight for space in schools mirrors that seen throughout the streets of Harlem—an area rich in culture, yet struggling for survival, and conflicted about the implications of improving the neighborhood when it could raise prices out of locals’ reach.