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New York

Harlem leaders champion new school run by Teachers College

Principal Worrell-Breeden looked on as first graders from the Teachers College Community School sang "What a Wonderful World" and recited the song in sign language. West Harlem community leaders heralded the coming of the year-old Teachers College Community School yesterday as a new district school option for a neighborhood packed with charter schools. The elementary school, which opened in East Harlem last year and moved to Manhattanville this fall, is managed by Columbia University's school of education. In recent years, many new schools have come to West Harlem in the form of high-profile charter school networks that have brought both educational opportunities and controversy to the neighborhood. Like those schools, the fledgling elementary school admits students randomly through a lottery process, and it relies on a mix of public and private funding to operate. But it also has the widespread support of political leaders who have served as some of the most vocal critics of the city's charter school policies, among them State Assemblyman Keith Wright. Wright has proposed legislation to give parent councils veto power over city plans to require district and charter schools to share space. A range of Harlem community leaders, including City Councilman Robert Jackson and Donald Notice, president of the West Harlem Development Corporation, turned out to the school's opening ceremony yesterday to laud the effort Columbia has made to support the school and help renovate its new, permanent home on Manhattanville's Morningside Avenue.
New York

Harlem impresario enters fraught charter school political scene

Lopez-Pierre, center, and his family, in a photo sent out in the new PAC's introductory emails. A Harlem realtor known for founding a controversial social club and playing a role in a high-profile loan dispute is now entering the world of charter school politics. Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a charter school parent, thinks Harlem's political leaders don't sufficiently support the charter schools that dot their districts. So he has formed a political action committee to help finance candidates who would. The committee, called the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC, made its debut this week in a letter to charter school advocates outlining its political goals: to raise $250,000 over the next year to support candidates in Harlem's three 2012 City Council races and local Democratic Party district leader races. The group also said it would find volunteers to help those candidates get out the vote. Lopez-Pierre, whose son is finishing first grade at Harlem's New York French American Charter School, said he and two other parents aim to create a new unified voice for parents in a community that has served as the front line of the political wars over charter school expansion. (Lopez-Pierre declined to name the other parents but said their children attend Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy and one of the Harlem Success Academy charter schools.) "Elected officials only respond to two things: votes and money. Our goal is to elect officials that support charter schools," he said. "My son is in first grade, and he's going to be in a charter school for at least 10 years. This is not about an election cycle. It's about transforming Harlem and expanding school choice."
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