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BY JOSH ROGERS | Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina told Downtown Express last week that there likely will be some full-day, pre-K classes in the Tweed Courthouse building in 2015, but she gave a definite no to expanding classroom space this year for Peck Slip School parents who were hoping to get more space to relieve their temporary and crowded rooms at Tweed.
“We’ve worked it out,” she said Nov. 12 in response to a question about more space this year, particularly her conference room at the Dept. of Education headquarters.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was standing at her side and who has been trying to get more classroom space at Tweed, had a different tense and take on the situation. “We’re working it out,” he quickly added.
The pair was with Mayor Bill de Blasio a few blocks from Tweed at Spruce Street School at a press event to celebrate enrolling over 53,000 full-day pre-K students — more than doubling the enrollment for 6-hour classes from last year.
Technically the temporary “incubator” rooms are not overcrowded, but they have been divided with partitions to accommodate the growing school — a source of outrage to parents, and a bone of contention to Silver and other Downtown school advocates.
Students at Peck started the year with low six-foot partitions separating different classes, making the rooms noisy and disruptive, according to parents. It wasn’t until late last month that the city Dept. of Education installed dividers that almost reached the ceiling — more permanent walls require a lengthy review because the building is an interior landmark.
Principal Maggie Siena has said the new dividers are not ideal but they are a large improvement, though some parents say it is still problematic.
Immediately after the press conference Silver said he had not given up hope for relief this year at Tweed.
“We have the problem of the partition between the existing classrooms and that we’re working out,” he said.
The speaker said that although there is not much chance Farina will give up her conference room, as he and others requested, there is still likely to be additional classroom space at Tweed next year.
“There is some other space, not necessarily her conference room — which was an area of some dispute — but there may be other space within the building that can be devoted different ways,” Silver told Downtown Express.
Farina said some of Tweed will be used for pre-K next September, when Peck Slip School is expected to move into its first permanent home at the Seaport.
“We have a school right now in Tweed, we anticipate when they move to their site that some of those classrooms will be set up for pre-K,” Farina said in response to Downtown Express. “And we look forward to having little four-year-olds in the building. It will really be a pleasure.”
Some Tweed space could also be used to “incubate” a new Lower Manhattan school, but that would only be considered if a new school site were found and could be open by the time the new school grew out of Tweed.
Despite the massive expansion of pre-K this year — a large down payment on the mayor’s signature campaign promise to make it universal — in Lower Manhattan, pre-K was cut in many neighborhoods.
The mayor looked surprised to hear that pre-K was cut in Battery Park City, but Farina said Lower Manhattan would get more full-day seats next year when the program is expected to become universal with an additional 20,000 students.
Responding to a question regarding Lower Manhattan, Farina said, “I think that some principals who are seeing the results of pre-k have all of a sudden found space for an additional pre-k next year. So, my feeling is that most of the schools will be able to provide in most of the communities.”
Farina did not mention specific schools, but the most likely ones in Lower Manhattan to add pre-K seats next year are Peck Slip, P.S. 234, 89 and possibly P.S. 150, in addition to the new ones at Tweed.
Peck will have more room in its new building, and P.S. 234, quite uncharacteristically, had space this year because it added extra kindergartens to meet Lower Manhattan’s rapidly growing population.
Many principals, including 234’s Lisa Ripperger, resisted adding pre-K because it creates budgetary complications for principals.
“That’s a separate budget — that’s federal money so it’s not supportive of anything else in the school and yet it takes resources,” Ripperger said about pre-K last June.
At the time, a D.O.E. official told Downtown Express the city was careful not to force pre-K’s on principals.
Similarly, P.S 89 in Battery Park City has additional space this year.
Tribeca’s P.S. 150 had made space for an extra classroom last year to accommodate P.S. 234’s kindergarten overflow, but the plan was scrapped when 234 was able to accommodate its waiting list.
The choice of Spruce to celebrate pre-K was an odd one since the growing school only added a temporary full-day room at the insistence of Silver. The school expects to lose that room next year as it expands to a middle school.
Even before the subject turned to Downtown, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, who’s in charge of implementing the pre-K expansion, said the two most challenging places to find room have been Central Queens and Lower Manhattan.