East Side School for Social Action Ready For Inaugural Class

By Amy Zimmer on September 5, 2012 12:42pm | Updated on September 5, 2012 2:28pm

MANHATTAN — There’s a new kid on the block.

The East Side School for Social Action, as P.S. 527 is called, will open its doors to approximately 50 Yorkville students for its inaugural kindergarten class Thursday, its principal Daniel McCormick said amid preparations with his new staff.

The Department of Education created the elementary school in the former Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic school building at 323 E. 91st St. to ease overcrowding amid a baby boom in the area. Two other new schools have been added to the neighborhood over the last few years and still more kindergarten seats will be needed, according to school officials.

Though this year the East Side School will have only two kindergarten sections, subsequent years are expected to have three classes each, McCormick said.

The DOE signed a 15-year-lease for the building in June and tapped McCormick, the assistant principal at TAG Young Scholars, a citywide talented and gifted school in East Harlem, to lead the new global studies-focused school. There students will get a taste of current events, geography and begin learning a second language — Spanish — in kindergarten.

Spanish instruction will be introduced by the month's end as the new school year begins to settle in, the principal said.

The benefits of learning the language, according to the school’s website, include “an appreciation of different cultures, increased creativity, and stronger marketability when applying to schools and careers.”

The East Side School for Social Action will also borrow its math curriculum from Singapore, whose strong curriculum has been adapted for American classrooms with a focus on problem solving, school officials said.

NY Chess Kids will provide in-class chess instruction once a week starting in late November, and besides having a part-time music teacher and art teacher, the school is partnering with the 92nd Street Y’s Musical Introduction Series so that students can have an addisiotnal visiting music instructor as well as attend musical performances at 92Y during the school year, McCormick explained.

Students will also have a “structured recess program” twice a week at the nearby Asphalt Green Recreation Center. The PTA is expected to be up and running by late September, and the following month, the school will begin implementing "family Fridays," where every other Friday, parents can come into the classroom with their child at 8 a.m. and stay up to hour eating breakfast together, reading or any other "parent-child bonding," McCormick said.

"It includes the parents in their child’s education," he explained, "and the teachers there can give the parents helpful strategies they can go home with." He noted that working parents can stay as long or as little as they'd like for that hour.

After “months of trying every conceivable name in the book,” officials decided to name the school after its goals.

“Our school will focus each year, in each grade, on social action projects meant to raise awareness and empower students to help others in the community, NYC, across the United States, and abroad,” he wrote in his principal’s message on the school’s website.

McCormick, a graduate of Quinnipiac College in Connecticut, became the assistant principal at the East Harlem gifted and talented school in 2003. Before that, he was a fifth grade teacher there. He grew up around educators: his mother, a high school Spanish teacher, is now an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut.

McCormick admitted he has some butterflies about the school year's start — as do some of the parents and their kids, he said. But he said it was normal and that even his mother, a veteran teacher, also had back to school jitters.

"Even when she knew she was going to retire that June of her last year after 25 years, she still couldn't sleep the night before the first day of school," he said. "When I couldn't sleep, she'd say, 'I understand. It’s my first day of school, too.'"

He continued: "I told parents it's very normal to be anxious. They realize it’s not just a kid thing. There’s such newness to it. New things are scary for everybody."

As the staff unwrapped the furniture that was just delivered last week, he added, "In two weeks time, we’ll feel like we’ve been here forever."

The new school's zone was carved out of blocks mainly from P.S. 151, which had initially opened in the Our Lady of Good Counsel building in 2009 before moving to its permanent home on East 88th Street last year.

Some blocks were taken from P.S. 290 — which had opposed its shrunken zone, but still had a waitlist of 42 students when school slots were first announced in March.

There were 724 kindergarteners enrolled in Upper East Side schools in 2011, DOE official Elizabeth Rose told parents in January.

That number is expected to grow to nearly 850 in the next five years, perhaps as soon as 2014, she said.

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