P.S. 41 Principal Strives for Excellence Despite Overcrowding

By Andrea Swalec on November 19, 2012 8:30am 

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Letters on a wooden door off of P.S. 41's gym still spell out "LOCKERS BOYS," but it's been a few years since the room last stored any athletic wear.

To meet the needs of a growing student body, the lockers were removed from the room so it could be devoted to academics. Today, the former locker room is used for parent-teacher meetings, English language instruction and guidance counseling sessions.

"We are really good about being creative with space planning," said Kelly Shannon, who has been principal at the pre-kindergarten through 5th grade public school for the past eight years and who was an administrator and teacher there for 10 years before that.

P.S. 41 boasts chess instruction, a school rock band called the GrooveCats and a new, 7,000-square-foot green-roof intended to teach students about sustainability, biology and agriculture.

But Shannon said overcrowding is testing the 116 W. 11th St. school's ability to provide personal attention and ensure that every child receives a well-rounded education.

DNAinfo.com New York recently sat down with Shannon to hear about rising class sizes at P.S. 41 and what she thinks the Department of Education should do to help.

Q: How much over its capacity is P.S. 41 and why does that matter?

We're supposed to be approximately 650 [students], and we're at 803. Several challenges arise — the scheduling of lunch hours, the number of students who can receive any particular cluster program. When you talk about your technology teacher, your dance teacher or your music teacher, there are only so many periods a day that they can teach. … It's a struggle to make sure that every student in every grade gets the same set of opportunities.

For some of the families whose older children are in middle and high school now, when they were here, their class sizes in kindergarten through 2nd grade were somewhere from 18 to 23 students each. Now, we're seeing in kindergarten 25 to 27 students, and in 1st and 2nd grade 26 to 28. In 3rd through 5th grades — for the first time — we're seeing 30, 31, 32 students.

It makes it more challenging for teachers to be able to provide the individual attention they would like to give students. … Our teachers work incredibly hard to overcome these obstacles to the extent they can, but I think we've realized there are inherently more challenges when you have a larger class size.

Q: What do you think of the latest DOE re-zoning proposal for the Village [which would eliminate Village parents' choice to send their kids to either P.S. 41 or P.S. 3 in the West Village]?

I absolutely feel it is necessary and time to address the overcrowding in this area. First and foremost, we support separating the zone, so that there are two distinct zones for P.S. 3 and P.S. 41. … Given the constraints of how many zoned families need spots, [going to either P.S. 3 or P.S. 41] shouldn't be a choice anymore.

Q: Why is P.S. 41 such a popular school?

People see us as a school that offers a somewhat traditional education, but at the same time we try to be on the forefront of the best ways to educate our children.

The green-roof is something we worked on for seven years and to see it come to fruition has been a great success. We are really engaging in environmental studies as another way to engage students in learning and scientific inquiry.

We have an incredibly strong arts department, with both part-time and full-time [instructors] for visual arts, theater arts and dance. We have a junior chorus and a senior chorus. And we have the GrooveCats, which is our band.

We also have our own chess program. All our students in kindergarten through 2nd grade get chess in the classroom, and they have an opportunity to join the chess program. … [Chess] has an impact on your mathematical-reasoning skills and your critical-thinking skills.

Q: Are you able to offer so many additional programs because of your Parent-Teacher Asssociation?

A good majority of it is because we have a strong PTA. We have a full-time arts teacher through the DOE and a full-time music teacher. But many of the additional art people we have — the extra music, the before-school programs and the chess program — are funded by the PTA.

Q: What's on the horizon at P.S. 41?

As soon as we opened the green-roof, we asked ourselves "What's the next big project?" We look at things long term and short term.

Right now we're very focused on making sure the rezoning happens. In order to support this building with its current programs and grow them, our immediate concern is getting an appropriate plan passed so that we can look forward, over the next three to five years, to downsizing as a building.

Q: What do you think of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's comments [at the green-roof opening in September] about your qualifications for schools chancellor? Is that something you would consider?

[Laughs] I go back in my career and think "How did I ever get to this point?" …I love what I'm doing and I love working with the community. …I feel very honored. At the same time, I'm really committed to the P.S. 41 community. If there's an opportunity before me, and it fits me, I would consider any opportunities in front of me.

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