Park Slope Parents Want New School to Be as 'Desirable' as P.S. 321

By Leslie Albrecht on December 11, 2012 8:43am 

PARK SLOPE — The new school set to open in Park Slope next year doesn't even have a name yet, but it's already got a group of dedicated parents eager to raise money for the fledgling institution.

More than 30 families have joined the group that will eventually become a PTA for the new K-5 school, which will open in the St. Thomas Aquinas building on Fourth Avenue and 8th Street in September 2013.

Their goal: make the new school "as desirable" as P.S. 321, said dad Matthew Didner, one of the group's members. Didner, who has a 3-year-old starting pre-K next fall, lives on 2nd Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.

He and dozens of other parents were recently cut out of the zone for popular, high-performing P.S. 321 — a crushing blow for families who assumed they had guaranteed their child a slot at the coveted school when they bought or rented homes in the area.

Some tried to convince the Department of Education to drop the rezoning, but the District 15 Community Education Council approved the plan on Nov. 28. Under the new zones, parents west of Fifth Avenue between President and Fifth streets, and on the block of Sixth Street between Third and Fourth avenues, will send their kids to the brand new school opening at the St. Thomas Aquinas building.

Now those families are turning their attention to creating what Didner called "Park Slope's next great school."

They expect to work closely with P.S. 321 Principal Liz Phillips, who has publicly pledged to help guide the new school, and with P.S. 321 assistant principal Elizabeth Garraway, who is expected to serve as its principal.

The group can't form an official PTA until there are children enrolled at the school, but parents are looking into forming a nonprofit group that could raise cash and apply for grants as soon as possible.

"If we wait until September to start fundraising, it's going to be a little too late to get kindergartners all the things they need," Didner said.

The new school will have a relatively small pool of families to draw from when fundraising, Didner noted, with only 50 kids enrolling in kindergarten in 2013. At P.S. 321, by comparison, there are 1,400  students and the PTA's fundraising goal for this year is to raise close to $1 million.

Though P.S. 321 is well-regarded, Didner said some parents didn't relish the prospect of sending their kids to such a crowded school. They see the new school as an opportunity to give their children the benefits of P.S. 321 without the bursting classrooms, he said.

"I couldn't tell you firsthand about P.S. 321, because I don't have a child there — all we know is its reputation," Didner said. "We want to have an equal reputation, an equal number of special subject offerings. We want to make sure they have art and gym and music. We want to make sure they get all the resources they would have had, had they gone to P.S. 321, but without the overcrowding."

Parents interested in joining the group for the new school can email psnewschoolfams@gmail.com.

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