Volume 20 Issue 16 | Aug. 31 - Sept. 6, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Back to School
On Tuesday, Kate was helping her father Edward Amber set up his pre-K classroom at P.S. 150 in Tribeca. Students return to class Sept. 4 and this week, in our first of two Back to School sections, we take a look at rising school supply costs and many other issues, Pages 17 – 29.

Annex at last! New school space to open at P.S. 234

By Skye H. McFarlane

From the starch of never-worn blue jeans to grind of freshly sharpened pencils, each school year brings with it a sense of the new. But at Tribeca’s P.S. 234, students and teachers will have more than new clothes or supplies to study on the first day of class.

After years of negotiations and meetings between developers, local leaders and the Dept. of Education, P.S. 234 on Tuesday will open the doors to a new school annex. According to P.S. 234 principal Lisa Ripperger, the seven new annex classrooms will allow the school to lower class sizes throughout the building, despite a sharp surge in enrollment.

“[The annex] is helping very nicely. Overall we’ll be able to lower class size,” Ripperger said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s a tremendous gift.”

The Warren St. elementary school, which is zoned for all of the students south of Canal St. and east of West St., has long been one of the city’s best-regarded public schools. As development has boomed Downtown in recent years, however, it has faced a growing space squeeze and swelling class sizes. For that reason, the community in 2004 negotiated with the developers at Jack Resnick & Sons to secure two floors of school space, along with a two-floor Manhattan Youth Community Center, in Resnick’s new condo building at 200 Chambers St. The building sits on the same block as the school.

The project faced several hurdles, including a budget standoff between the city and the state in spring 2006 and construction staging issues in fall of 2006, both of which threatened to delay the scheduled opening in fall 2007. By the time the holidays rolled around last year, though, the project was back on schedule.

As construction on the annex moved along, however, P.S. 234’s academic reputation remained a selling point for families looking to move into the neighborhood, thus exacerbating the crowding problem. The school has been over-capacity since 2003 and in 2005 it sacrificed both its pre-k program and its computer room to accommodate additional students.

Although each of P.S. 234’s individual classrooms stayed within legal class-size limits last year, no grade averaged fewer than 24 students. The state Education Dept. has set 20 pupils per class as a benchmark, especially for the youngest grades.

“There has definitely been an outcry for lower class size around here, but I would say that our teachers have worked very effectively for what are considered large classes,” Ripperger said.

The school remains popular with teachers, as well. With the seven new classrooms set to open, Ripperger was tasked this summer with finding seven new teachers to round out her staff. Unlike some city schools, which struggle to fill teaching positions by Labor Day, P.S. 234 was flooded with resumes at the beginning of the summer.

The seven new teachers, Ripperger said, will mostly work in the existing school building, while returning teachers will set up new classrooms in the annex. The annex space will feature three kindergarten classrooms, three first-grade classrooms, a shared classroom, a nurse’s office, an administrative office and a teachers’ lounge.

Ripperger declined a Downtown Express request to photograph the annex this week because she said she wanted students and parents to see it first.

Although there is an elevator in the building, Ripperger said the youngsters will have to hoof it up to their classrooms on the third and fourth floors of the building (a standard policy in many public and private elementary schools). To get to the school’s gym, cafeteria and other specialty rooms, the students will walk across the school’s playground into the main building. The playground itself, which was closed during construction last year, has been renovated with new asphalt and matting. On Wednesday morning, crews were busy installing finishing touches like trees and other plantings.

But along with the new plantings, P.S. 234 will also be welcoming about 85 more students. Although enrollments typically fluctuate until mid-October, as of Wednesday the school was slated to take in 760 students, up from 675 last year. With about 140 new seats in the annex, minus the 85 new students, the school will have a net gain of 55 spaces which it will use to lower class size in nearly every grade.

“We will be able to start year with more reasonable class sizes,” Ripperger said. “It’s always hard to predict what will happen when new [residential] developments open during the middle of the school year, but at least we’ll be starting at a more comfortable level.”

Although the old computer room will remain a classroom since the school has already switched to laptop carts, the annex space will help ensure that other specialty rooms will not be converted into classrooms in the near term.

“I think that became sort of a Tribeca myth,” Ripperger said of the persistent rumors that the science room and/or auditorium might become classrooms this year. “We have a science classroom, we have an art classroom, we have more than a lot of schools.”


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