On Wednesday night, the NYC Department of Education presented their plan for school re-zonings affecting PS 321 and PS 107, and small parts of PS 39 and PS 10 (first covered by DNAinfo earlier this week). The full DOE proposal (including the map) is here, and the map by itself is here. I have summarized some of the details below.
The City Council does not have a formal role in this process – the proposal will be voted on by the District 15 Community Education Council. But I know first-hand that school re-zonings cause a lot of anxiety, so I wanted to make sure you had all the details, along with a few of my thoughts (and apologies for the long e-mail).
This is a really hard problem to solve. We are extraordinarily lucky to have great public schools, in a great and growing neighborhood. All four of these schools are fantastic; I’ve spent a lot of time in each one, and have good friends whose kids go to all of them. But that has led to significant overcrowding, particularly at PS 321 and PS 107 (which, full disclosure, my daughter attends). PS 107 is at 158% of capacity, and has already had a couple of years when the list of kindergarten applicants – of solely zoned kids (they now send teams out to check every address) – is beyond the school’s legal capacity. PS 321 is at 128% capacity, and rapidly approaching the same situation. That’s why DOE has been working to create two new schools in this section of District 15.
I wish there were a way to relieve overcrowding, prevent kindergarten wait lists, and ensure that all families know they are assured a seat at their neighborhood school – all without having to change the existing lines. I know that many of you made one of the biggest decisions of your lives based on the current lines.
I had hoped that overcrowding might be addressed by a new “early childhood center” at the St. Thomas Aquinas school building at 211 8th Street (at 4th Avenue) – something that I first requested from the DOE two years ago. Conversations with the DOE have convinced me that they thoroughly analyzed the option, and unfortunately, it just won’t solve the overcrowding we are facing in a sustainable, long-term way. Some of you have rightly asked about for more information about this alternative, and I have asked DOE to provide a written explanation of their data and analysis.
Details about the DOE proposal
- A new elementary school is being planned for the St. Thomas Aquinas school building at 4th Avenue and 8th Street. That school will be designated for some families now zoned for PS 321 and PS 39.
- The new school is proposed to be led by an assistant principal from PS 321. To build a close bond between the schools, PS 321’s principal Liz Phillips has committed to mentor and work closely with her. I believe that there is every reason to be confident that this will be another fantastic school. I’ve asked DOE to provide additional details, so prospective parents can learn more and be equally confident.
- Some families currently zoned for PS 321 will now be designated for PS 39, a fantastic school led by Principal Anita de Paz.
- Some families currently zoned for PS 107 will now be designated for PS 10, a dynamic school led by Principal Laura Scott (if you want to get a little sense of PS 10, or if you just want to smile and enjoy what an incredible place Brooklyn is, check out this truly amazing video of last year’s parent flash-mob).
- Younger siblings whose older brother or sister is currently enrolled in PS 321, PS 107 or PS 39 will be able to go to the same school (even if they don’t wind up in the new zone for that school).
- Next fall, District 15 parents will also have the option of applying to another new neighborhood school – PS 133 will be moving to its new school building on 4th Avenue and Baltic Street, and will be entirely a “choice” school for families in Districts 15 and 13 (other “choice” schools in the district are the Brooklyn New School/PS 146 and the Brooklyn Children’s School/PS 372). Led by Principal Heather Foster-Mann, PS 133 offers dual-language programs in French and Spanish. It will be another great option for area families to choose from.
I’ve heard from many of you already, and there are a few things that I’ll be fighting to make sure get included in any proposal:
- Students who are currently enrolled in Pre-K at one of the affected schools must be allowed to stay in those schools even if they are not in the new zone (and their younger siblings must also be covered by the sibling policy).
- I am pushing DOE to make sure that both new schools open with full-day pre-K classes.
- The “choice” admissions model for PS 133 needs to include thoughtful diversity filters, to help that be a diverse and inclusive school.
A number of you have raised concerns about the impact of the re-zoning proposal on school diversity. This is a very important issue to me. New York City’s schools are devastatingly segregated, as shown recently in this powerful analysis by the New York Times. More than 50% of the city’s 1,600 schools are more than 90% African-American or Latino, with the deepest segregation in black neighborhoods, including central Brooklyn. This is truly a crisis – driven by long-term residential segregation and more recent gentrification – and something we should be doing a lot more about.
But the proposed re-zoning will have only a modest impact on diversity, since all the school zones have significant white majorities (I’ve asked DOE to provide an analysis of the impacts, so we can see it clearly as part of this process). That’s partly why we are fighting hard to make sure that PS 133 is allowed to take diversity into account in their choice admissions model. If you want to attend a school with a more diverse student body than typically possible in zoned schools, I encourage you to consider the new PS 133, or the Brooklyn New School, another choice school in Carroll Gardens which has remained deeply diverse over many years. And I hope we can continue the much-needed but challenging conversation about how to confront and change school segregation across the city.
On the brighter side, I’ve spent a lot of time in all of these schools, and have close friends who are very satisfied parents with kids in every one of them. They are all great places to learn and grow. And there are many reasons to be very confident that both new schools being created here will also grow quickly to be the talk of Brooklyn.
Still, I know this does not address everyone’s concerns – and I remain very open to listening to you, and to hearing what other ideas you may have.
Give Your Feedback
If you have thoughts about how the proposed re-zoning will affect our neighborhood, I hope you will take a moment to submit those thoughts to the CEC and DOE:
District 15 Community Education Council (the body which will vote on the proposal in November)
DOE Office of Portfolio Management
District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop
And of course you can send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Public Education Parents Town Hall on Monday night
Finally, you are invited to attend the Public Education Parents Town Hall, which I am hosting on Monday night, together with Parent Voices NY. This was planned before the re-zoning was announced, as an opportunity for parents across District 15 to come together on a range of issues. We will be learning and organizing together on issues including reducing overuse of high-stakes testing, school food, special education, PTA support (there will be break-out sessions on each of these topics).
Because of the need to make sure everyone has the information they need on the re-zoning proposal, there will also be an opportunity to learn more about the proposal from DOE, to ask questions, and to give your feedback to CEC 15 representatives at the meeting:
I look forward to talking more with you about this in the weeks to come.