Red Hook, Sunset Park Schools Adapt to Shifting Demographics

By Alan Neuhauser on February 11, 2013 6:45am 

SUNSET PARK — The city's Department of Education is struggling to keep pace with two rapidly changing neighborhoods along the South Brooklyn waterfront.

Over the past decade, thousands of immigrant families from Mexico and China have settled in Sunset Park, the latter creating the largest Chinatown in New York City. Meanwhile, in nearby Red Hook, well-heeled residents and developers seeking quiet escape from the Big Apple’s hustle and bustle are converting former industrial spaces into multimillion-dollar homes, even as other residents depart in search of more affordable neighborhoods.

While Red Hook schools have seen a slight decline in enrollment in recent years, according to DOE figures and Insideschools, others in Sunset Park have become some of the city’s worst cases of overcrowding, forced not only to accommodate a huge influx of students, but also English-language learners speaking Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and, increasingly, Arabic.

“When I first started, the population was about 88 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Asian. Today, I would say it's about 50-50,” said Josephine Santiago, principal of P.S. 169 in Sunset Park.

“If you look around at the community, the one- and two-family homes are now six-family dwellings, and then those spaces are shared, families double-up. So in an apartment, you can have four to five children easily, where there might have been one child there in the past.”

Despite the challenges, reports by the DOE and Insideschools show that virtually every school in Sunset Park and Red Hook, both part of District 15, has found ways to deliver quality classroom instruction, as well as extracurricular activities, health programs and other services for students and parents.

Plus, amid the crush of families seeking space in schools, there are hidden gems to be found.

Notably, P.S. 133 in District 13 is reserving more than half its seats for students from District 15. Hundreds of those spots will go toward English Language Learner and low-income students, offering Sunset Park families an opportunity to escape some of the worst overcrowding in their schools.

Here are some of Red Hook and Sunset Park's noteworthy public elementary schools:

P.S. 15, Patrick F. Daly School, 71 Sullivan St.
The Patrick F. Daly School, named for its late principal, is perennially one of the top schools in the city, ranking in the 97th percentile in 2011-2012 with a score of 85.2 on its progress report. Principal Daly, who was killed in 1992 while searching for a student who had fled the school, was an art teacher there before he became an administrator, and the school has upheld that legacy with a vibrant arts program. The school has also earned recognition for its work with special-education students and its active PTA.

K646, Red Hook Neighborhood School, 27 Huntington St.
K646, which replaced P.S. 27 after that school closed in 2009, is frequently overshadowed by its neighbor, P.S. 15, located just eight blocks away. Students at the Red Hook Neighborhood School earned sub-par marks in mathematics, attendance, engagement and respect, but the school improved nine points on its progress report from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012, climbing from an “underdeveloped” to “developing” rating, and earning a B for overall student progress. 

P.S. 1, The Bergen, 309 47th St.
More than 1,000 students are enrolled at P.S. 1, but Insideschools reports that the school’s teachers and principal have maintained a small-school feel with a variety of programs tailored to the diverse range of students who go there. More than 80 percent of students are eligible for free lunches, about 15 percent require special education, and over a third are English-language learners, hailing from China, Mexico and the Middle East. The school earned a score of 87, or “Proficient,” on its 2010-2011 progress report.

P.S. 24, Spuyten Duyvil School, 427 38th St.
P.S. 24 earned a coveted score of 94 in 2010-2011, placing it in the DOE report’s top category, “Well Developed.” Principal Christina Fuentes has cultivated a “whole student” curriculum at the school, according to Insideschools, teaching self-expression and tolerance alongside traditional subjects like math and history. The school boasts a strong arts program, and almost half its nearly 800 students are learning English as a second language.

P.S. 94, Henry Longfellow School, 5010 Sixth Ave.
P.S. 94 could not stay out of the headlines in 2012. In May, the Daily News reported that the DOE launched an investigation into whether teachers at the school had fed students answers on state exams. Days later, Principal Janette Caban, reportedly a former English teacher, sent a letter to staff riddled with grammatical and spelling errors — a note that was leaked to the News.

The investigation ultimately found that the allegations were unsubstantiated, the DOE told DNAinfo.com New York. Nevertheless, P.S. 94's troubles continued in the fall: When the school’s doors opened in September, more than 100 kindergarten and first-grade students were crammed into an auditorium, where they watched movies instead of attending classes because, Caban said, there was no more room at the school.

The school’s most recent progress report shows it scored a 96 on its quality review for 2010-2011, but it flunked three of four categories the following school year, earning an F for student progress, a D for student performance and a D for closing the achievement gap — plus a C for school environment.

P.S. 133, William A. Butler School, 211 Eighth St.
P.S. 133 is the school perhaps undergoing the most change in south Brooklyn. Its building was demolished in 2010 and replaced with a larger, $65 million space slated to open in September 2013. The school will be shared by districts 13 and 15, with more than half the seats reserved for District 15 students. Although a long haul from Sunset Park, the school offers perhaps one of the best opportunities to escape some of the worst overcrowding in other neighborhood schools.

Boasting French and Spanish dual-language programs, P.S. 133 earned a 77 “Proficient” rating on its most recent quality review and a score of 62 on its progress report — a marked rise from the 50 it earned in 2011 and 26 in 2010.

P.S. 169, Sunset Park, 4305 Seventh Ave.
P.S. 169 is one of the most well-regarded — and overcrowded — public elementary schools in Sunset Park. Led by longtime principal and near-lifelong resident Josephine Santiago, the school provides an array of services for students and their families through partnerships with local community organizations, including after-school programs and health clinics. With a student body split roughly in half between Hispanic and Asian students, the school's staff includes bi- and trilingual speakers happy to help students and parents navigate the school and its curriculum.

P.S. 169 earned an 86 “Proficient” rating and a B on its most recent progress report. But with close to 1,500 students, its classrooms and hallways are bursting at the seams.

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