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Extra Room in Chinatown Schools Could Ease Downtown Overcrowding, City Says

By Julie Shapiro | September 28, 2011 4:53pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — While schools in TriBeCa and Battery Park City cope with a shortage of school seats and a sweeping rezoning, hundreds of available seats are sitting unused just a short walk away in Chinatown, the Department of Education said this week.

P.S. 1 on Henry Street and P.S. 126 on Catherine Street have room for a total of 350 to 370 more students, said Elizabeth Rose, a portfolio planner for the Department of Education. That's the equivalent of an entire new elementary school with two classes per grade.

"We need to figure out how to use those seats," Rose said Tuesday at a meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's school overcrowding taskforce.

One possibility, Rose said at another meeting last week, would be to open District 2's first dual-language elementary school.

"There is a tremendous opportunity to create a Mandarin-English dual language program, [which] could draw families from [other] zones," Rose said at a Sept. 22 meeting of the District 2 Community Education Council.

In the past, families who live in Community Board 1 — which includes TriBeCa, Battery Park City and the Financial District — have been reluctant to send their children to elementary school outside of that immediate area.

But Rose appeared to hope that a specialty program, such as the dual-language classes offered at Chinatown's high-performing Shuang Wen School, would entice families from across the district.

But P.S. 1 Principal Amy Hom took issue with the DOE's assessment that her school has extra seats, noting that the Department of Education counts art, science and music rooms as empty classrooms.

If the city takes those specialty rooms away, the art, science and music teachers will have to travel from class to class with their equipment on carts, which is far from ideal, Hom said.

"We do have some extra space, but we're also growing our [Integrated Co-Teaching] program," Hom said, referring to classes that combine special education and general education students.

Hom said she likes that the school currently draws most students from a six-block radius, and she expressed concerns about bringing children in from other neighborhoods that are farther afield.

"It would change my community," she said.

Administrators at P.S. 126 did not immediately return a call for comment.

At Tuesday's meeting, Rose said she wanted to hear from Downtown parents and elected officials for their suggestions on what to do with the available school space. 

"How [do] we make the best use of the seats we have here in these buildings?" she said.