In Harlem, battle over placement plans for new school

SQUEEZE ME  | The proposed middle school would be the third school in a building on 136th Street.

SQUEEZE ME | The proposed middle school would be the third school in a building on 136th Street.

A proposal to squeeze three schools in the same building is making waves among Harlem parents and locals.

The New York City Department of Education has introduced a plan to add a middle school to the building that two elementary schools, P.S. 192 and P.S. 325, currently occupy on West 136th Street. The proposal will add approximately 225-255 seats to a building that the DOE considers “underutilized.”

“The DOE supports parent choice and strives to ensure that all families have access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s needs,” the DOE’s Educational Impact Statement reads. It intends for the co-location to provide parents another viable middle school choice.

The statement also states that, if approved, the co-location will add one grade per year, starting with grade six in the 2014-15 school year, until grades six, seven, and eight are added.

But Miriam Aristy-Farer, interim president of Community Education Council District 6, said that adding a third school would increase the existing struggles of the schools, which she said include dropping enrollment, poor academic performance, and administrative tension.

“They need to stabilize before they go through another change,” she said, pointing to the installment of a new principal at P.S. 192 in each of the last three school years.

Aristy-Farer acknowledged there is a need for a middle school, given that students are now zoned for I.S. 52 in Inwood or can attend a Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a nearby charter school. But she said a co-location was not the answer because it would overburden the two elementary schools in the building.

“The community does need a middle school,” she said. “The parents at the school want a middle school. They do not want a third school.”

Parents dropping their children off for morning classes on Monday had mixed reactions to the co-location.

“My son is going into fifth grade, and I was going to have to worry where to send him next year,” said parent Jenny Melendez, who said he welcomed the addition of a middle school. “I think that, in this area, there’s not enough sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.”

Parent Rita Molina said in Spanish that some teachers already have 30 students in their classrooms.

Luz Verdejo, a kindergarten parent who attended the school when she was younger, added that she thought the school was understaffed.

It “depends on how they put it together,” she said of the co-location.

Aristy-Farer said she is also concerned that the KIPP charter school nearby has been responsible for the “cannibalization” of public schools, “actively soliciting the highest-performing students at those schools” and causing their scores and enrollment to plummet.

A KIPP Infinity Elementary School spokesperson said that KIPP’s admissions lottery is not based on achievement level. Rather, students who have siblings in the school are given the highest preference, and those who live in Community Education Council District 5 or qualify for free or reduced lunch are given benefits.

“We work through a lottery, so we do not know who comes in through our doors” until the school receives the results, Rosy Canela, the administrative office assistant, said. “Any student at any level from anywhere can apply to KIPP.”

Ultimately, Aristy-Farer said she hopes to minimize co-locations in future. The DOE’s Panel for Education Policy will vote on the co-location on Oct. 15, and Aristy-Farer said she is still trying to mobilize parents.

“We are doing everything we can to make it clear that this cannot continue to happen,” Aristy-Farer said.

By Deborah Secular – Columbia Daily Spectator


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