Park Slope Rezoning Shifts School Landscape

By Leslie Albrecht on February 11, 2013 6:59am 

PARK SLOPE — As kindergarten application season kicks into high gear, parents in Park Slope are looking at a markedly different school landscape.

The Department of Education recently approved sweeping zoning changes that affect three existing schools in the neighborhood and create a brand-new K-5 school to ease the area's elementary school crunch.

The rezoning shrank the zone for crowded P.S. 321 — long the neighborhood's most-coveted school — along with the zone for P.S. 107, while enlarging the zone for P.S. 10, an up-and-coming school in the South Slope.

And to help handle Park Slope's swelling ranks of school-age children, the city will open the new P.S. 118 this fall in the former St. Thomas Aquinas building at 211 Fourth Ave. and Eighth Street.

Parents whose kids will be sent to the new school — many of which bought or rented apartments thinking they were safely inside the P.S. 321 zone — have vowed to make the school as desirable as P.S. 321. Late this fall, parents started organizing fundraising efforts for the new school.

"We want to have an equal reputation, an equal number of special subject offerings," said Matthew Didner, a Park Slope father who plans to join the PTA of the new school.

"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."

It’s expected that Elizabeth Garraway, an assistant principal from P.S. 321, will lead P.S. 118 with guidance from P.S. 321’s principal, Liz Phillips.

The recent rezoning debate provoked an outcry from many parents who felt they were being cheated out of the chance to send their children to P.S. 321 — but other parents and officials repeatedly pointed out that there are several other very good schools in the area, including P.S. 10 at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street, which has a strong arts program.

“People call from Manhattan, and all they’ve heard about is P.S. 321,” said Judith Lief, an associate broker at Warren Lewis Sotheby's International. "The first thing I do is say, 'There are other schools in the neighborhood — why don’t you check them out?'"

P.S. 321, William Penn, 180 Seventh Ave.

In the heart of Park Slope, this school has been a draw for families seeking a high-performing school with an active PTA. Its popularity comes with a price — P.S. 321 is crowded. It’s led by well-respected Liz Phillips, a critic of high-stakes testing whose own children attended P.S. 321.

P.S. 107, John W. Kimball, 1301 Eighth Ave.

Like P.S. 321, P.S. 107 is a popular neighborhood school that’s become increasingly crowded in the past few years. Its principal is Eve Litwack, a former assistant principal at P.S. 321. This year she added a dance program for first-graders.

P.S. 10, Magnet School of Math, Science & Design Technology, 511 Seventh Ave.

P.S. 10 has an active PTA that’s made a commitment to healthy eating by adding a salad bar and a school garden and encouraging students to participate in events like apple eat-a-thons. Parents say they love the racial and socioeconomic diversity at this school, which is also very welcoming of students with special needs.

P.S. 39, Henry Bristow, 417 Sixth Ave.

P.S. 39, known as "The Landmark School," is in an attractive historic building that’s been undergoing renovations for more than a year. Now that construction is almost over, the school is going to focus again on efforts like a garden and composting. It’s right across the street from the Park Slope public library, which sometimes collaborates with the school. P.S. 39 also has an after-school program in partnership with Congregation Beth Elohim this year.

P.S. 282, Park Slope Elementary & Middle School, 180 Sixth Ave.

This school is just blocks from P.S. 321 and earns similar scores on DOE school progress reports, but it struggles to attract neighborhood families. However, a loyal core of local parents swear by the school, which has a garden and a chess team that’s competed at national tournaments.

P.S. 372, The Children's School, 512 Carroll St.

P.S. 372 is a non-zoned school that's built a reputation for serving special needs students alongside typical children in a welcoming setting. Parents have pushed for the K-5 school to be expanded into a middle school, but the effort suffered a blow last year when the DOE announced it hadn't located a space for the expanded school.

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