Volume 21, Number 39 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 6 - 12, 2009
Downtown school confusion
Downtown parents do have reason to breathe a temporary sigh of relief. It seems like the additional six kindergarten classes the city Dept. of Education plans to open this September in temporary incubator space at Tweed Courthouse will relieve most, if not all of the current overcrowding problems in Lower Manhattan schools. The city has also selected both principals for the incubators, which will move to Spruce St. and southern Battery Park City in a few years when the desperately needed new school buildings should be ready.
These positive developments were probably not possible without the dogged advocacy of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has pressed D.O.E. officials to meet with parents regularly in his office.
The progress has not come easily. Officials first resisted the need for incubator space, then proposed inadequate solutions before it came up with the answer that was literally under their noses — classroom space in the D.O.E.’s Tweed headquarters.
But the last-minute progress on the incubator has led to changing the application plans on the fly, prompting widespread confusion. Some parents were waiting around the block outside P.S. 234 last week to register for Tweed, 234, or both schools only to “learn” later that the Tweed applicants wasted a few hours of their time since the D.O.E. changed its mind. They will have to reapply for the Tweed school because the D.O.E. is no longer looking at their applications for the incubator.
We put “learn” in quotes because parents still have not gotten clear information. Our reporter, Julie Shapiro, ended up giving some parents information as she did reporting for our article this week, and hopefully parents will have a better sense of what to do by reading our paper.
The D.O.E.’s spokesperson acknowledged to us communication problems, but that is only the first step. Officials need to do much better direct outreach and communication ASAP, so parents can make the best decisions for their children before the March 2 deadline.
We encourage parents to take a close look at the incubator schools, Spruce Street and P.S./I.S. 276. If enough parents find a strong comfort level with these schools, it could mean no kindergarten student will be forced to attend a school his or her parents don’t want.
If as many fear, too many parents sign up for P.S. 89 or 234, we suggest the D.O.E. take one step before moving to its Plan B — random assignments for all incoming Downtown students. The city should actually take a look at the applications parents waited in line to fill out at 89 or 234, and see if any slated to go to those schools put one of the incubators as a first or second choice. If so, those children should be moved to Tweed since those parents have already expressed a willingness to attend the new schools. Giving parents choice is the best option.
These recent developments are just the newest example of why parents will need to get a stronger voice this year, when we hope the mayor’s control of schools is renewed in Albany. As we have said before, schools have mostly gotten better under the new system, but listening to parents more, and further institutionalizing their involvement, will strengthen mayoral control in the future.