BUGS infestation! New charter school gets ready to sting Park Slope

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A new charter school run by a team of former corporate honchos wants to take public school space from the city in order to serve Park Slope middle schoolers — prompting mixed emotions from parents who are happy to see more school options, but hate the idea of privatized public education.

Founders of Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School — which goes by the acronym “BUGS” — says the public, 300-student, science-focused school will serve sixth to eighth graders in District 15 as early as next fall, although it has not yet secured a location.

“[BUGS] will be a vibrant learning community dedicated to stewardship of the environment,” notes the school’s brochure. “We aim to provide [the district] with a high-quality, innovative middle school option to reduce overcrowdi­ng.”

It also notes the school is “a community-based project” instead of a controversial “charter management group” — where charter leaders are accused of making six-figure salaries while taking up rent-free space at city public schools.

The Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School may claim to be neighborhood friendly, but the resumes of its founding team members tell a different story: the majority of them have held positions as corporate executives at companies including Ford Financial, Deutsche Bank and Barclays Capital. Many have more experience in the corporate world than with public education.

It’s one indication they are more than simple, community do-gooders: They are business-savvy executives with much to gain from rent-free public school space, some parents charge.

“We want good, community based-public schools — not privatized new ones,” said Park Slope mom and activist Gloria Mattera. “Buy your own building.”

Public charter schools pick students via lottery and offer a more flexible curriculum than district schools. Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School students, for example, will spend more time outside planting, designing gardens and studying nature.

But creative curriculum and high test scores have not stopped charter schools from igniting fiery fights in the district, like in the case of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Charter Network, which hundreds of Cobble Hill parents and teachers rallied against at a recent Department of Education hearing.

Many parents are against putting charter schools into operating school buildings, claiming that it takes away classrooms from public school children and forces everyone to compete for shared gym, library and cafeteria space.

Yet Mark Kolman — a member of the of the District 15 Community Education Council who has opposed inappropriate charter co-locations in the past — said the Brooklyn Urban Charter School would likely be good for the area.

“I don’t see it hurting anything at this point; the neighborhood needs more middle schools,” he said. “But it is certainly a business.”

A fast-paced business, it seems: Brooklyn Urban Charter School co-founder Susan Tenner — a former executive at Intel — did not have time to talk about the school when we reached her, noting via e-mail, “I have back-to-back meetings right now.”

Co-founder Miriam Nunberg, a lawyer — and one of the few founders who has worked as a teacher — did not respond to calls and e-mails.

Department of Education officials noted the school’s co-location is, by no means, a done deal.

“We are in discussion with the school to identify what their needs are and whether we would be able to find them an appropriate space,” said spokesman Frank Thomas.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

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Reader Feedback

Nancy Dennigan from South Slope says:
To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about the NYC DOE charter school program, but not his or her own facts.

NYC DOE charter schools are NOT private schools – and they are certainly not businesses: they are public schools.

More specifically: Charter schools are publicly funded and open to all students in New York City through a non-discriminatory admissions lottery. Each charter school is governed by a not-for-profit board of trustees which may include educators, community members, and leaders from the private sector. Charters have freedom to establish their own policies, design their own educational program, and manage their human and financial resources. Charter schools are accountable, through the terms of a five-year performance contract, for high student achievement.

The DOE says it established charter schools to:

> Provide families with an increased number of high quality school choices
> Improve student achievement
> Increase learning opportunities for all students, with an emphasis on at-risk students
> Encourage use of innovative teaching methods/educational designs
> Create new professional opportunities for teachers, administrators, school staff
> Change from rule-based to performance based accountability

As to whether BUGS is run by “former corporate honchos,” the information on the BUGS website indicates a more diverse team:

There's plenty of room for debate about the DOE charter school program, but arguments for and against should stick to the facts.
Dec. 27, 2011, 1:48 pm
Miriam Nunberg from South Slope says:
I am the co-founder and Board Chair of the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUGS), and I must comment on several erroneous and frankly biased assertions made in this article. BUGS was founded as a community-based effort to create another much-needed public middle school option. The article states that we really intend to reach only “Park Slope middle schoolers.” In reality, BUGS intends to serve students from a far wider swath of Brooklyn, including Sunset Park, Kensington and Red Hook. Our curriculum is specifically designed to serve English Language Learners, as well as special needs students via our partnership with the Cooke Center for Learning and Development.

The article also includes the inaccurate statement that although BUGS “claim[s] to be neighborhood-friendly,” my team is really a bunch of “corporate honchos” with little experience in public education. The BUGS board is actually an all-volunteer group of talented community members with broad-ranging educational and other relevant expertise. Our nonprofit board is made up of nine members, four of whom are former teachers. One board member is now a national expert on middle school design. Another directs research and assessment at a highly respected school for students with special needs. A third is currently working on the reform of the Newark Public Schools, and my legal practice has focused on civil rights in public education. Another inaccuracy is the statement that my co-founder Susan Tenner is a former executive at Intel, whereas in reality she is another former teacher who developed early childhood educational programs for the staffs of her clients, including Intel and Ford Financial. We are also quite lucky to have three team members from the worlds of finance and real estate, which is absolutely crucial to the success of any charter school; a charter that attempted to open without this expertise on its board would be irresponsible at best, and unsuccessful at worst.

Our team remains happy to speak to anyone interested in learning about our school. None of the members of our planning team were interviewed for this article, which might explain some of the incorrect content. We have yet to secure a space, and are committed to finding one that creates more seats for all students, without adding to the overcrowding problem in District 15 or anywhere else. Once we do secure a space and know that we will be able to open in the fall, we will be holding public information sessions where parents can learn for themselves about our school. In the meantime, I strongly urge interested readers who would like to learn the real facts about this exciting, new, and yes, public, needed middle school option by visiting our website at
Dec. 28, 2011, 5:43 pm
Heidi L. from Park Slope says:
Your article here suggests something quite opposite from what I have experienced with this new school and its founders.

Far from 'corporate honchos' these are down to earth active community members with children in the public school system. There has been an outpouring of community support for this school, both because we need more middle schools in the area, and because of the unique hands on and nature related programming they are building.

Its too bad that you didn't speak to the wonderful ladies who are working very hard to bring this school to life, you would have seen a different story.

- Heidi
(Parent of 6th grader in Park Slope)
Dec. 29, 2011, 11:16 am
Elizabeth E. from Greenwood Hts says:
Your paper has really gotten it wrong this time. I am acquainted with some of the 'BUGS' founders from around the neighborhood, and I can assure you they are NOT corporate honchos. They are Brooklyn parents who are trying to start a public charter school and their hearts are in the right place.

Not all charter schools are created equally. There is a HUGE difference between the corporate/ franchise-style schools and the community-based ones and BUGS is most definitely in the community camp. You failed to do your research and your reporters failed to follow up with the BUGS people. One phone call was placed and since someone was too busy to talk at that time they are branded unresponsive? From my point of view, this reflects poorly on the Brooklyn Paper and it's reporters, not the BUGS founders.

The DOE has failed to acknowledge (let alone address) the rapidly growing population of school-age kids and the tremendous need for more schools in our area. Your article is critical of community volunteers who are trying to help rectify a terrible situation and they are being slammed by this poorly researched article?

The article is derogatory and ill-informed at best.
Dec. 30, 2011, 10:09 am
Kelly from Red Hook says:
Is it Ms. O'Neil's first day on the job? NYC schools 101: Charter Schools are public schools. How can a public school take space from a public school? I've seen better reporting/research in a high school newspaper. Really appalling.

Furthermore, this headline is completely absurd - I didn't realize the Brooklyn Paper was trying to be the Post. Seriously guys, do better next time.
Jan. 2, 2012, 4:10 pm
Mark Vincent from Park Slope says:
The degree of inaccuracy in Natalie O'Neill's article about BUGS Charter School goes well beyond poor or sloppy journalism. The number of errors and misrepresentations is staggering considering how brief the piece is.
BUGS is a community based project driven by a group of committed, local residents with varied backgrounds in education. BUGS will be a public school accessible through a lottery to a diverse community that is in need of quality middle school options. There are no corporate honchos, rent free spaces or opportunistic executives as Ms. O'Neill suggests. Its obvious these distortions attempt to create controversy for the sole purpose of provoking readers. The story behind BUGS may not be exciting or dramatic, but that does not relieve you of your duty to report the truth.
Hopefully this disservice to the Brooklyn community will be muted by the lack of respectability The Brooklyn Paper has attained in the recent times.
Ms. O'Neill's knack for distortion is also on display in an October piece about parking and PPW bike lane. Her brand of journalism can only be described as disgraceful.
Jan. 5, 2012, 12:20 am
ParksidePete from P'Slope says:
Gets my vote for most overtly biased article to appear in this publication. This axe-grinding reportage is shameful.
Jan. 18, 2012, 12:42 am
Jeebs from South Slope says:
Whoa, I don't know anything from anything about this school and was trying to research it and I have to say that the snarky tone and patronizing prose of this article just screams "hatchet job!" Why not at the very least follow-up with BUGS people until you got some answers instead of jumping to obviously politically fraught conclusions!? Not serving the public very well. I think I will be taking the "journalism" of Ms. O'Neill and, quite frankly, the Brooklyn Paper and it's editors in general with a healthy grain of salt. It would be shame if the local Brooklyn news outlets were Fox-level biased. Just saying.
April 29, 2013, 9:57 am

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