Volume 21, Number 39 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 6 - 12, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
It was standing room only in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s room last week as parents jammed in to meet Downtown’s newest principals and go on a tour of the Tweed school space, top.
Downtown school applications full of surprises for parents
By Julie Shapiro
Confusion and frustration are building among parents trying to figure out where their children will attend kindergarten next year.
A meeting at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office last Thursday was supposed to allay parents’ fears, but the new information the Dept. of Education provided contradicts much of what parents had previously heard.
The biggest surprise to parents was that the city would use a lottery to decide which kids get kindergarten seats at P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 next fall if there is not enough room for everyone who wants to attend.
The children who do not get a space in P.S. 89 or P.S. 234 will go to one of the two new schools opening in Lower Manhattan: P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City or the Spruce Street School near the Seaport. The buildings for the new schools are not yet ready, but the schools will open with just kindergarten classes at an incubator in Tweed Courthouse next fall.
“If [P.S. 89 and P.S. 234] have more applicants…than they have seats, they will randomly assign children,” said Marty Barr, executive director of elementary enrollment at the D.O.E. “Where in the zone [the children live] will not matter.”
Many parents thought the D.O.E. would give priority at P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 to children who live near the schools, while children who live near the new schools would be more likely to be assigned to the incubator. Prior to Thursday’s meeting, some parents who live near the new schools thought their children had little chance of attending the existing schools, but it now appears that everyone, regardless of geography, will have an equal shot. (article continues after the graphic below)
The Department of Education is holding a series of open houses about Lower Manhattan’s two new schools for parents whose children are entering kindergarten next fall. Terry Ruyter, principal of P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City, and Nancy Harris, principal of the Spruce Street School, will tell parents about their new schools, which will open next fall with just kindergarten classes at an incubator in Tweed Courthouse.
Kindergarten enrollment is currently open and lasts until March 2. P.S. 234 asked parents to apply during a two-week window that ends Feb. 6.
Another surprise at Thursday’s meeting was that parents who want their children to be considered for both their zoned school and the Tweed incubator will have to fill out two separate applications. The D.O.E. will then evaluate the applications independently, which means some children will get into both an existing school and a new school when the D.O.E. announces decisions in mid-March. Those parents will get to choose which school their child attends.
Because of a miscommunication, P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 initially had parents fill out a single application on which they ranked all the schools they want to attend, including both new and existing schools. At Silver’s meeting, several parents asked if they now had to fill out an additional application to be considered for Tweed. Barr said he would get back to them.
Will Havemann, D.O.E. spokesperson, said Wednesday that parents did need to fill out an additional application for the new schools. The new principals will reach out to parents and make sure everyone has a chance to fill out an application, Havemann said.
“While communication on this hasn’t been as clear as we would have liked, we’re going to make sure that any parent who has expressed an interest [in the new schools] will be given an opportunity to apply,” Havemann said. “We’re going to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.”
Connie Schraft, parent coordinator at P.S. 89, called the process “confusing” and said the city’s plans keep changing. She said parents are anxious but handling the changes well.
Four of those parents were huddled against the freezing brick wall of P.S. 234 early Tuesday morning, waiting to fill out an application for their preschoolers.
“I’m just trying to figure it out,” said Dan Gillespie, a Seaport resident whose daughter enters kindergarten next fall. “It’s very back and forth.”
The parents had not heard that the city would use a lottery to give out the coveted P.S. 234 seats.
“That’s horrible,” Garland Hunter, who lives on Desbrosses St. and wants her son to attend P.S. 234, told Downtown Express. “I didn’t know that. Thank you for ruining my day.”
Hunter thought she had a good chance of getting her son into P.S. 234 because she lives west of Broadway, and most people thought only kids east of Broadway would be zoned for the Spruce Street School instead of P.S. 234.
“How did they just change that midstream?” asked Jacqueline Bassel, who lives on John St. “This is worse than college applications.”
“Much worse,” Hunter added.
Bassel was the first parent in line at P.S. 234 at 7:30 that morning. She tried to register her son last week, when P.S. 234 first started accepting applications, but the line wrapped around the block. P.S. 234 condenses the city’s six-week application window into two weeks, which caused last week’s lines.
As snow began to fall Tuesday morning, a P.S. 234 staff member told the parents they could get breakfast somewhere warm and come back at 9 a.m., but no one took her up on the offer.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Bassel said. “I’m not risking 30 people showing up.”
Bassel is particularly anxious about getting her son into P.S. 234 because he has special needs and has to be in a C.T.T. (collaborative team teaching) class. She had heard the incubator in Tweed would not have any C.T.T. classes, as P.S. 234 does.
Havemann, the D.O.E. spokesperson, said Tweed would have C.T.T. classes if students need them.
As parents filed out of Silver’s meeting last week, several sounded concerned that the lottery for seats at the existing schools would make it more difficult for the new schools to form a community, since their populations could draw students from all around Lower Manhattan.
Barr, the elementary enrollment director, said a lottery was the only sensible way to select students, since it is too early to draw the final zones for the two new schools. The zoning will depend on the families that move into buildings now under construction, so it makes sense to wait at least until next year to zone, Barr said.
A temporary zoning plan this year also had the potential to set up a block-by-block fight between parents hoping to stay in the catchment area of P.S. 234 or P.S. 89.
Silver’s meeting attracted about 100 parents, along with another 30 who were turned away because of fire codes. After getting an overview on the new schools and the admissions procedures, and a brief speech from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the parents walked over to Tweed Courthouse for a private tour of the incubator space, currently occupied by the Ross Global Academy. The Chambers St. building also houses the D.O.E. headquarters.
It was the first chance parents had to see the Tweed space, and they will have two additional opportunities, the D.O.E. announced this week: Feb. 12 and Feb. 25, both at 5 p.m. Terri Ruyter and Nancy Harris, the two new principals, are also holding additional meetings about their schools outside of Tweed: Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at 36 Battery Pl. and Feb. 10 and Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center at 120 Warren St.
Julie Johnson, principal of Ross, in a phone interview, said she was happy to have parents tour her charter school as long as it did not disrupt her students, which took several weeks to arrange with the D.O.E. Downtown Express toured the school recently at 7:15 a.m. before the students arrived.
Several parents who have seen the Tweed space or seen pictures of it said it was beautiful and more than adequate for an incubator next fall. Tweed will have four kindergarten classes for P.S. 276 and two for the Spruce Street School.
As students enter Tweed, they go through a metal detector and step into the bottom of a dramatic rotunda that rivals City Hall. A soaring fiberglass Roy Lichtenstein sculpture shoots up the middle of the space in streaks of black, white and red. Hallways branch off from the central space, opening into large, high-ceilinged classrooms.
The four corner classrooms currently hold two elementary classes each. Those rooms, with columns, chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows, are broken up into smaller spaces with cloth-coated dividers and bookshelves.
The school also has several smaller rooms that are still bigger than an average classroom. Ross uses one as a music and art room, one as a cafeteria that converts to a gym and one for offices and extra student services. The D.O.E. may change the configuration and use of the rooms when converting it into the incubator for next fall.
When the weather is nice, students can play and have gym class outdoors on the northeast lawn of City Hall Park, which has several small trees and shrubs but is mostly open space. The lawn is grass, not turf, which means it is mostly mud this time of year.
Ross’s elementary school has been in Tweed for three years and is rapidly outgrowing the space, Johnson said. Next fall, the school will move into the East Side Community High School’s building on E. 12th St. The move will unite Ross’s elementary and middle schools, which previously were separate.