Volume 17, Number 42 | March 11 - 17, 2005

Parent campaign at P.S. 89 offends I.S. 89

Students entering the P.S./I.S. 89 building. (Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Weisbord)

By Ronda Kaysen

Talk about precocious: it seems that Battery Park City’s six-year-olds have taken to peaceful protestations. The pins that you might have seen recently affixed to the backpacks of Downtown first graders have nothing to do with Sponge Bob or Pokemon. They are instead being stamped out and tacked onto the tots by a few B.P.C. parents.

“This is so cute. It’s their first protest,” P.S. 89 parent Tom Goodkind gushed of the buttons that read, “Let’s make P.S./I.S. 89 our community school. A really big K-8 is great.”

Goodkind, a Battery Park City resident, hopes his knobs will drum up support to change the local P.S./I.S. 89 on Warren St. from a separated elementary and middle school into a single K-8 for B.P.C. kids.

Currently, P.S. 89 is zoned for B.P.C. residents, but once the children finish fifth grade, they are not guaranteed a seat in I.S. 89, which shares the same building at the elementary school, and must instead apply to attend.

B.P.C. parents have been vying for a middle school zoned for B.P.C. children for several years because the only zoned school for the neighborhood is at Simon Baruch School on E. 21st St., far a field from B.P.C. Many B.P.C. parents opt to send their children to one of the nearby testing schools, like Lab School on W. 17th St.

Critics of the proposal contend that I.S. 89 is not large enough to accommodate all of the children who would qualify if the school were zoned for them, causing a significant overcrowding problem.

The school zoning issue picked up steam recently after a new K-8 school site was secured for the East Side as the result of an agreement brokered last year, which also included an annex adding several classrooms to nearby P.S. 234 in Tribeca.

Goodkind launched the button-making endeavor on Monday and anticipates it will cause a stir. “I’m hoping — and this is my private hope — that [the school] will ban them and then it’ll be a big controversy.”

He may very well get his wish, but the controversy he unleashes might have more to do with the I.S. 89 students and parents from other neighborhoods feeling snubbed than enlisting any new supporters in his cause.

Michele Herman, a West Village resident whose son is a seventh grader at I.S. 89 is “appalled” by the movement to zone her son’s middle school. Her 12-year-old bikes along the Hudson River Park bike path from his home to school each morning, a welcome commute for her son, said his mother, also an avid biker.

“To find ourselves kicked out of I.S. 89 because we don’t live in Battery Park City seems like a very exclusionary move,” she said.

Describing I.S. 89 as a “godsend,” Herman said the school and its administration “exceeded our wildest expectations.” The campaign to give I.S. 89 neighborhood kids first priority has created friction between B.P.C. parents and parents from other neighborhoods, she added.

She finds the notion that her son may no longer be welcome at I.S. 89 troubling not just for her son’s education, but for local residents as well. “I think it would be their loss,” she said. “Battery Park City is a limited pool of families and I think the more families they can bring in who want to be there, who choose to be there, who come from different places and have different experiences and live in different ways, that can only enrich the kids’ education. I don’t understand why they would want to shut that off.”

The buttons may very well offend some I.S. 89 parents, said Angela Benfield, co-president of the P.S./I.S. 89 P.T.A., but only parents who do not live in B.P.C.

“The parent who would be turned off by [the buttons,] wouldn’t be parents who live in the neighborhood, they would be parents from out of the neighborhood,” she said. “This is not about wanting to get them out, it’s about making sure that we have a local community school. If they would be offended, they would be getting the wrong message.”

Benfield, an I.S. 89 parent and B.P.C. resident, handed several buttons out to supporters at a Tuesday night raffle, although as P.T.A. co-president she has declined to take a position on the issue of zoning I.S. 89.

Ellen Foote, I.S. 89 principal, was unaware of the button campaign when she spoke with Downtown Express, but not at all pleased to hear about it.

“Given the structure that we have now, with an emphasis on inclusivity, I would be very concerned that kids would feel that they are not welcome here,” she said.

At a January meeting with P.S./I.S. 89 parents and Region 9, which oversees both schools, Region 9 officials indicated they had no intention of zoning the middle school, Foote said. Button campaign or not, I.S. 89 is not getting zoned for the neighborhood anytime soon.

“The information that I have is that things are not going to change and at least the executive committee [of the P.T.A.] should really just let the issue drop, it is just not a good use of their time,” she said of the meeting.

Representatives from Region 9 are planning to meet with City Councilmember Alan Gerson on Friday to discuss, among other things, new zoning for Lower Manhattan schools. Gerson thinks changes should be considered with the construction of the new school, but he has not endorsed any particular zoning plan.


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