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SUNY OKs charter school for southeast Queens kids

There is a new school coming to town. The State University of New York's board of trustees voted unanimously Jan. 25 to approve the opening of a new charter school in southeast Queens set to open in the fall.

The Merrick Academy-Springfield Gardens Charter Public School was one of 14 public schools approved in the selection process, which started in September from an initial field of 90 applicants.

The proposed site of the school was not known at presstime.

"With the approval of these outstanding charter schools, thousands of New York's children will begin this century with the opportunity for a better future tomorrow through a better education today," said Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Egan.

Alma Alston, principal of the St. Peter Claver parochial school in Jamaica, was the proprietor and applicant for the school. Since Alston could not be reached as of press time, it was not clear whether she would remain as principal once the charter school opens.

The school will be run by Victory Schools, an educational management company which runs a charter school in Harlem. Both U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and Councilwoman Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton) sit on Victory School's board of directors. Neither could be reached for comment.

Connie Culler, a spokeswoman for the Charters Schools Institute, said the application process is multi-layered and diligent, involving site visits, interviews, and speaking to outside experts and financial analysts.

"We believe each of these schools can improve learning for New York's school children, which is what charter schools are all about," said Robert Bellafiore, the executive director of the Charter Schools Institute.

Under the charter school law, which was passed in 1998, SUNY must now submit its approvals to the state Board of Regents, said Culler.

While the Board of Regents does not have the power to veto any of SUNY's choices, they can comment on its selections and send the applications back to SUNY for possible revision.

Thomas Dunn, a spokesman for the Regents Board, said the 1998 law called for the creation of 100 charter schools statewide, and that half of the applications were to go to SUNY and half were to be handled by the Board of Regents.

Dunn said that while the application process is fairly similar for both avenues, many more applications have been filed with SUNY than with the Board of Regents.

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