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Eric Greenleaf, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who has two fourth graders in P.S. 234, discusses the worrisome state of Downtown elementary schools and offers advice to the city Department of Education on how to solve the problem.
What prompted you to get actively involved in researching Downtown school overcrowding?
I live next door to the Spruce Street school. In the spring of 2008, it became clear that construction of [the Frank Gehry building] was delayed for a while, which meant that it wouldn’t be opening when people had hoped. And that meant that we’d need to find temporary space to hold the kids who were going to Spruce until the Gehry building itself could open. I discussed this with the president of the P.S. 234 [Parent-Teacher Association], and with the principal. They suggested that it was time to form an overcrowding committee. As part of that, it became clear that we needed to make a solid, numbers-based case for why we expected that there be overcrowding.
Are you concerned about the effects overcrowding will have on your own children’s education?
I am. The biggest concern I have about overcrowding, as a fourth grade parent, is because we also need more middle schools. Next year, my kids will be going through middle school admissions process, and we don’t know where they’re going to go to school. Also, P.S. 234 used to have more cluster rooms than it has now, and it has closed some of those due to overcrowding. My kids love art and science, and P.S. 234 has been able to get these rooms temporarily from Manhattan Youth, but suppose those rooms were to go away.
At what point did the D.O.E. miscalculate school capacity Downtown, in your opinion?
As early as 2005-2006, it was clear that not enough new schools were being built. By 2008, it was completely obvious — since I became involved in this, I haven’t seen the D.O.E. provide accurate and transparent forecasts of school enrollments. They have outside consultants to do this, [yet] their forecasts are always far too low.
What general guidelines should the D.O.E. follow moving forward to combat overcrowding?
It has to be more proactive in planning school enrollments, which particularly means that it needs to look not only at increasing births and new construction, but also at the tendancy for more families to stay in the city, rather than move to the suburbs, when their kids reach school age.
Have you ever considered working for the D.O.E.? I’m sure they’d love to have you on their team!
I have a nice job as a professor here at NYU, but I’m happy to give them lots of free advice if they want to listen.
What’s your specialty at NYU?
Marketing. I focus a lot on consumer reactions to prices, market research techniques and how to combine market research methods with neuroscience to investigate consumer behavior.
What do you like to do in your spare time Downtown, when you’re not researching overcrowding?
I like to go to the parks with my kids. We love the New Amsterdam Market that’s opened. I also enjoy [getting involved in] my kids’ Downtown activities, such as helping out in their classrooms, going to their school concerts and celebrations, and going to my son’s Downtown Little League games.