Mesa Charter High School serves about 500 students in Bushwick, most of whom live nearby. The students come from over 35 middle schools.
“We work really, really, really hard to build relationships with our kids. And then we leverage those relationships to get those kids to achieve what maybe they didn’t even realize they were capable of doing,” co-founder Arthur Samuels said.
Mesa is an independent, standalone charter school.
“Kids don’t have to test in, they don’t have to attend an info session, they don’t have to do anything except enter the lottery. And we performed very, very, very well, despite not being able to select who comes in,” Samuels said.
That performance pushed them to expand to a second high school — and helped get their application approved in 2019. But they could not open — because the city hit a state-imposed cap on the number of charters that can open in the five boroughs.
At the meeting where Mesa’s application was approved, the State University of New York approved 13 applications, but had only seven charters left to five out. Mesa just missed the cut.
“They sort of rank-ordered everyone and we were number two in the queue,” Samuels said.
“Being so close, when we have the numbers to prove it, when we have the success to prove it, is just — it was really, really tough,” co-founder Pagee Cheung said.
But now, the city could see 14new charter slots become available. The state budget deal calls for reviving these so-called zombie charters — issued to schools that either never opened, or shut down.
“A lot of people think of charters like a taxi medallion. Right? Someone has it, and then they don’t have it anymore. And they, it somehow gets passed on to another person. It’s really more like a slice of pizza when you eat it. It’s gone,” Samuels said.
The deal would bring those pizza slices back, and it might put Mesa at the front of the line for a bite. The State University of New York Charter Institute says no determinations will be made until the budget language is final. Schools that were approved in 2019 would have to submit updated materials, but they would receive preference under current rules.
That’s welcome news to student Abigail Singh.
“I’m a big advocate in school choice and student leadership out here at the school. And I think that Mesa really incorporates and values that skill set and I think that other students out there who want to be advocates, who want to be this, like, catalyst for change should be able to come to schools like this,” she said.