New Zones for Park Slope's Popular P.S. 321 and P.S. 107 Unveiled

By Leslie Albrecht on October 18, 2012 8:03am | Updated on October 18, 2012 12:17pm

PARK SLOPE — Parents got their first look Wednesday night at proposed school zoning changes that have sent shockwaves through a neighborhood that places a premium on both property values and educational opportunity.

The Department of Education unveiled the proposed new zones for Park Slope's P.S 321, P.S. 107, P.S. 39 and P.S. 10 at a public meeting of the District 15 Community Education Council.

The proposal, spurred in part by severe overcrowding at highly sought-after P.S. 321 and P.S. 107, would shrink the zones for those schools while drawing more students to P.S. 10.

A new K-5 school would be created in the Thomas Aquinas building on Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue, which has been temporarily housing P.S. 133. Officials are planning to have P.S. 321's assistant principal head the new school.

The maps, which were posted on the DOE's website Thursday, show P.S. 321's zone losing the blocks from Third to Fourth avenues and First and Sixth streets, and First through Fifth Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue.

The P.S. 321 zone would also cut out the blocks from Seventh Avenue to Prospect Park West between Fourth and Fifth streets.

P.S. 321 has grown so popular that its enrollment has swelled to an all-time high of 1,453 students as of Wednesday, DOE Director of Planning Carrie Marlin said at Wednesday's meeting.

That means P.S. 321 is at 128 percent capacity. Similarly bursting P.S. 107 has enrolled 590 students this year, putting the school at 158 percent capacity, Marlin said.

If the new zoning is approved, the changes would take effect in the 2013-14 school year. Kids who get pushed out of a zone but have siblings in that zone would be given first priority for admission, Marlin said.

One P.S. 39 parent called the changes "devastating," and others slammed the DOE for not cracking down enough on families who use false addresses to get a coveted seat at P.S. 321, generally regarded as Park Slope's top school.

Parent Philippe Verfaillie said his family bought a house two years ago in the P.S. 321 zone and were disappointed at the prospect of being forced out.

"We played by the rules," Verfaillie said. "We bought in the zone because we wanted to be in the zone."

He said other families don't seem to follow those rules, because P.S. 321 seems to be filled with students who don't live in Park Slope, he said.

"There are people that rent for one year in the zone, move somewhere else, and somehow stay in the zone... I see streams of kids coming out of the subway, coming from who knows where, going to P.S. 321," Verfaillie said.

P.S. 321 Principal Liz Phillips noted that city rules allow a student to attend P.S. 321 if they start there as a kindergartner, even if they move out of the zone. But she admitted that some students lie about their address.

Other parents raised concerns about diversity, saying that P.S. 39, P.S. 10 and P.S. 321 could all become less mixed racially and socio-economically under the proposed zones.

Mom Leslie Uretsky, the parent of two toddlers, came armed with a full-color map based on census data that she said showed that P.S. 321 would lose the most diverse blocks in its zone under the proposal.

"I prepared this [map] because I had the 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 sure enough, my fears have been confirmed," Uretsky said.

"My block is 34 to 46 percent minority, and lo and behold we are the ones who are going to be forced into a new school."

A P.S. 10 mom, Meredith Davis, said she's zoned for P.S. 321 but chose P.S. 10 in part because it's a more diverse school.

As the only "barrier-free" school in the district — meaning students in wheelchairs can go anywhere in the school — P.S. 10 attracts many out-of-zone students, Davis said. She said she wants any rezoning plan to consider their needs as well.

Davis said officials were ignoring "the elephant in the room" — P.S. 282, a District 13 school on Sixth Avenue and Lincoln Place, just a few blocks from P.S. 321.

Davis said P.S. 321's overcrowding was caused in part by parents in P.S. 282's zone who don't want to send their kids to P.S. 282, which earned a "D" in the school environment category on its last progress report.

"Fix P.S. 282," Davis told officials. "I don’t see you taking any of the P.S. 321 zone and putting it into P.S. 282, because you’d have a riot."

Also at play is the fate of P.S. 133, where CEC leaders are battling with the DOE over a plan to create an admissions policy to boost the school's diversity. CEC 15 President Jim Devor vowed that the CEC wouldn't approve any new zoning unless the DOE guarantees a diversity policy at P.S. 133.

"We will not approve any rezoning plan for District 15 that is not associated with an iron-bound commitment for creating an affirmative action or set aside for English Language Learners for the District 15 piece of P.S. 133. We are absolutely adamant about that."

The CEC must vote on the proposed zoning changes within 45 days of Wednesday's meeting.

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