An education panel voted Monday night to approve big changes for a controversial Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn.
The Khalil Gibran International Academy was met with a firestorm of criticism when it opened as a dual-language middle school in 2007. Its founders said it would teach a diverse student body about Arabic language and culture. But opponents charged it would promote Islamic extremism. The school saw high staff turnover, cycling through four principals since its founding.
But its biggest problem ended up being low enrollment, education officials said. Only 111 students study there now and the school never attracted many native speakers of Arabic.
The new plan is to phase out the junior high and re-open as a high school in downtown Brooklyn, near the Atlantic Terminal transportation hub, in 2012.
Last year those groups sat down with education officials and acknowledged the school wasn't working out. Its location was a major hindrance. It was near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, far from the subway and Arab communities, who were also wary of the controversy.
The middle school will be phased out and current students who perform at grade level will not be affected, according to the Department of Education. The new high school will share space with the Metropolitan Corporate Academy and the Brooklyn School for Career Development. Metropolitan will be phased out by 2014, leaving just two schools in the building.
The school plans to offer an international baccalaureate, a diploma used around the world that promotes a global outlook. It would keep its dual-language program. There are 94 such programs in city schools, many in Spanish and Chinese. The programs provide instruction in English and the target language, with the goal of producing fully bilingual graduates.
The proposal got little attention before the Monday night vote. During the public comment period, charter school supporters and opponents spent four hours arguing about school co-locations.
But not everyone was happy with the changes. A group of community activists issued a statement on Monday afternoon, criticizing the Department of Education for its handling of the school. They said the new proposal bears little resemblance to the original vision.