Applicants envision new charter schools


The Bronx is unchartered territory.

At least if you let the charter school applicants tell it.

Riverdalians Dita Wolf and Alec Diacou, along with Mary Ellen Sullivan, chair of the College of Mount Saint Vincent’s teacher education department, are in the midst of applying to open non-profit charter schools in the Bronx in fall 2014. All three of their applications describe the borough, and in some cases District 10 — which includes Riverdale and Kingsbridge — as an educationally deficient area that would benefit from the expansion of the publicly funded, but privately run, schools. 

Ms. Wolf, who was principal of PS 7 and has worked in education for 40 years, has applied to open Arturo Toscanini Charter School, an elementary school named after the famed Italian composer who once lived in the Bronx.  The elementary school would serve Bronx neighborhoods from Riverdale to Soundview, while emphasizing the language, culture and history of Italy. 

The school is working on partnerships with the Bronx Arts Ensemble, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of City University of New York to enhance curriculum. The SUNY Urban Teacher Education Center plans to assist with teacher training and professional development. Students would receive about three to five hours of Italian instruction a week depending on their age and would have the opportunity to practice conversing with Italian students via Skype, according to the application.

The proposal notes that the Bronx, particularly District 10, is “under-chartered” and not for lack of demand.

“Even ‘upscale’ Riverdale in District 10, where 150 students, nearly half the graduating class at what was then J.H.S. 141 went on to specialized high schools in 1992, that number has diminished by 90 percent in the past 20 years to just 15 per year more recently. There is no escape from the culture of failure that has gripped the schools of Bronx County, even in the borough’s ‘best’ neighborhood,’” the application reads.

Despite posturing Riverdale as educationally-deficient, Andrew Wolf, Riverdale Review publisher and the publicity contact for the school, said he doesn’t anticipate the school being located anywhere near Riverdale. The proposal seeks to serve students in Districts 8, 10 and 11.

Ms. Wolf said she anticipates opening the school in the east Bronx, noting that the school has received the most interest from families in Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay and Pelham Parkway. She doesn’t plan to co-locate with schools already situated in Department of Education buildings.  

Alec Diacou, who runs Yes the Bronx — an organization which seeks to counter negative stereotypes about the borough — has temporarily withdrawn his application for the elementary school Rosalyn Yalow Academy. Mr. Diacou says he will resubmit a plan that better describes the school’s relationship with Riverdale Mental Health Association in time to open it within District 10 by September 2014. He hopes to later expand through eighth grade.

The school, which is named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who lived in Kingsbridge for more than 60 years, would include a 10-hour school day. It would offer arts through a partnership with Bronx Arts Ensemble; chess with help from Kasparov Chess Foundation; a science curriculum, by partnering with the American Museum of Natural History, and fencing.  

Mr. Diacou said he would consider opening the school in a DOE space for its first two years, but hopes to ultimately