When a representative of the Department of Education revealed the map depicting the proposed new zones for four elementary schools and one new school in and around Park Slope, the whole room got a little tighter on Wednesday night.
In an effort to help stop the perpetual growth and overcrowding of two popular Park Slope elementary schools, P.S. 321 and P.S. 107, which serves grades kindergarten to fifth in District 15, the DOE proposed five new zones, essentially cutting the neighborhood up into strange shapes—which will decide which residents are cut into or out of a certain public school district. (See PDFs of the map and the full presentation in the photo gallery.)
Carrie Marlin, a planning official for the DOE, showed a presentation to the auditorium of P.S. 39 filled with what she called a “robust crowd” of over 100 parents. Her slideshow revealed the new zones, the rationale for rezoning the neighborhood and the planned class sizes and capacity of the five area schools—P.S. 321, P.S. 39, P.S. 107, P.S. 10 and a new school opening in 2013 on Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue, St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Every year, [P.S. 321 and 107] have accommodated very significant annual increases in enrollment. What we see now is that they will not have the ability to continue to serve the whole zone, even after they take the steps to try and accommodate,” Marlin said, explaining that P.S. 321 and 107 have transformed their art and music rooms into classrooms to battle overcrowding. “Essentially, what we would see at these schools in the next two years is the need to start capping overflowing students in significant numbers and that is very disruptive to schools and families. Students in the schools’ current zone could be sent far away.”
The proposed new zone for P.S. 321 on Seventh Avenue would essentially cut about 10 blocks out of its current zone, only if the Community Education Council District 15 votes to approve the new map during its 45-day process.
The area most affected, meaning that the children living in the area would go to St. Thomas Aquinas when it opens in 2013, is the southwestern corner of P.S. 321’s district. The border would be moved east to Fifth Avenue, from Third Avenue, and north to First Street.
The border on Fifth St. would be cut north to Fourth St., only between Seventh Ave. and Prospect Park West—moving those kids to P.S. 39.
P.S. 107’s borders may also become smaller—block cutting starts west of Seventh Ave., between 11th St. and 14th St. Also, the border between Prospect Park West and Eighth Ave. from Windsor Pl. and 15th St.
To see the potential changes in P.S. 10 and 39’s borders, see the DOE’s proposal in the picture attached.
The principal of P.S. 321, Liz Phillips, said she initially did not support rezoning, but eventually the 50 student increase each year became too much to handle, now serving 1,402 students and over capacity at 128 percent.
“We’ve done everything we can, filled our art room with a classroom and the projections just don’t work without getting rid of two kindergarten classes,” Phillips said. “There’s no ideal solution, I hate the idea of rezoning, but this would be a permanent solution that will stabilize our population.”
A parent of a four-year-old, who luckily still lies in the new proposed zone for P.S. 321, was nervous until the map was revealed.
“We bought our house on Sixth Ave. with sending our kid to P.S. 321 being a major factor, her bedroom actually looks over the school's playground and she has been excited about going to school with her friends on the block,” said John, a Sixth Ave. resident who did not want to give his last name. “Luckily, we are safe. I am relieved she’ll be going to the school we wanted.”
But other parents, who weren’t as lucky as John, were devastated after finding out their children will not go to the school they had planned for.
“My kid was a prospective student at P.S. 321, my family bought a place in what we thought was P.S. 321,” said Filipe, a Park Slope resident. “Now we’d be put into a new school. We played by the rules and we bought in zone because we want to be in that zone—while other parents rent in in the area for one year and then move elsewhere.”
Another issue parents were worried about is the fear that the new zones will cut diversity in schools.
A parent of two children in Park Slope, named Leslie, prepared a map using census data depicting which Park Slope blocks have the most diversity.
“I had this sinking feeling that when P.S. 321 was made into a smaller zone, it would be the most racially diverse block group that would be eliminated. And my fears have been confirmed tonight,” she said while holding the color-coded map she made.
Leslie explained that she found the proposed zone for P.S. 321 only has zero to 8 percent minority, compared to 9 to 22 percent minority on other blocks in its current zone.
“Low and behold my block, which is 34 to 36 percent minority, will be the ones who will be forced into a new school. It very well may be an ‘A’ school, it may also be an ‘F’ school,” Leslie said. “But, it will be over-utilized at its inception and will be immediately be overcrowded.”
However, Marlin said that St. Thomas Aquinas will only take kindergarten classes in 2013. She explained that students who are currently enrolled in schools will not be moved out. Also, prospective students who are cut out of their current school zone but have siblings in that school, will have priority in enrollment.
What do you think about the proposed zones? The Community Education Council now has 45 days to vote on the proposal. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.