Volume 22, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 27 - December 3, 2009
Downtown Expressw photo by Jefferson Siegel
Lisa Ripperger, P.S. 234’s principal, said she would take a job in Westchester if class sizes are pushed too high next year.
Crowding pressures remain at P.S. 234 and 89
By Julie Shapiro
The principal of P.S. 234 said that continued overcrowding at her school could drive her out of the city.
If P.S. 234 is forced to bump first-grade class sizes up to 32 students next year, “You’ll find me in Westchester in a heartbeat,” Principal Lisa Ripperger said. “I get offers daily. Forget about it. It’s not happening.”
The city is in the process of rezoning Lower Manhattan’s schools to reduce overcrowding at P.S. 234 and P.S. 89. But a variety of factors are making Downtown’s principals worry that they haven’t left overcrowding behind just yet.
Ripperger is concerned about the dozens of children who were waitlisted for kindergarten at P.S. 234 last year and went to another school instead. The city has said repeatedly that some of those children may be able to return to P.S. 234 for first grade, as space allows. Ripperger is worried that those children could flood next year’s projected first grade classes of about 25 students until they reach the teachers’ union maximum of 32 students each.
Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning at the Dept. of Education, replied that the city would try to keep class sizes low.
“Nobody wants to see it at 32,” Rose said.
Rose fielded questions from Ripperger, parents, and Downtown’s other principals at a meeting held by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office Monday.
Even though the opening of the two new schools — P.S./I.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School — is already starting to ease the overcrowding at P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, those schools took in more kindergarten classes than they could handle in the fall of 2008, before the new schools opened. P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 will continue to struggle to find space for that bulge of students as they move through.
Ronnie Najjar, principal of P.S. 89, said she needed to find yet another classroom for next fall because of the “bubble” of first graders moving up to second grade. Najjar said she would like to reduce the class sizes for that group of children as well — the classes have up to 28 or 29 children apiece — but she doesn’t have enough room to do so.
Anne Albright, a P.S. 89 parent, has suggested moving some of the current first graders into P.S. 276 next fall for second grade, since the new school will have lots of extra space. Albright said she would be willing to move her first-grade twins over to P.S. 276 and keep her older child at P.S. 89. Najjar also said moving some students to P.S. 276 would be a good idea.
Rose said the city had not looked into the suggestion but would consider it. She predicted it would be difficult to determine who would move to 276, but Albright said it would not be hard to find volunteers.
Another factor that places additional strain on P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 is that families moving to Lower Manhattan who have children in the upper elementary grades will not be able to go to the new schools, because the new schools will only have lower grades next fall. So, regardless of where those new families are zoned, they will end up at P.S. 234 or P.S. 89.
During Monday’s meeting, Rose surprised some of the parents in attendance with the news that P.S./I.S. 276 is slated to have only three classes per grade level, not four, as was previously announced.
When several parents said they were unhappy about that, 276 Principal Terri Ruyter began brainstorming solutions. She said the school has two science labs and that, in a worst-case scenario, she could close one of them — but before she could finish the sentence parents interrupted her to protest. Downtown schools have long lost cluster spaces to overcrowding, and the parents said they would fight for additional school seats Downtown instead.