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City Reopens Door to Ease Overcrowding at P.S. 116

By Jill Colvin | November 29, 2011 1:21pm
Beth Parise, a member of Community Board 6 and a P.S. 116 parent, drafted the resolution urging the DOE to help alleviate the school's overcrowding. Her son, Zach, is in second grade at P.S. 116.
Beth Parise, a member of Community Board 6 and a P.S. 116 parent, drafted the resolution urging the DOE to help alleviate the school's overcrowding. Her son, Zach, is in second grade at P.S. 116.
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Beth Parise

DOWNTOWN — The Department of Education has cautiously reopened the door to a plan that could alleviate overcrowding at a Kips Bay school.

P.S. 116, on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, is currently at 120 percent capacity, according to advocates. To ease the strain, parents and elected officials want the city to start kindergarten classes for nearby P.S. 281, which isn't scheduled to open until 2013, this fall so that some P.S. 116 students can go to school there.

Since no physical space yet exists for P.S. 281, which will open at East 35th Street and First Avenue, parents are eyeing the Meeth School on East 63rd Street between Second and Third avenues as a potential site for the so-called "incubation" school, which would house the classes temporarily, beginning this coming fall.

As DNAinfo reported earlier this month, DOE portfolio planner Elizabeth Rose told P.S. 116's principal, Jane Hsu, that the department was not considering the plan to incubate P.S. 281, according to two sources briefed on the conversation. Now, that seems to have changed.

Faced with pressure from dozens of parents and a host of elected officials, the DOE appeared to take a step back Monday night and said that they were still open to at least considering an incubation plan.

"We understand that it is an attractive idea and we see that there is merit," Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg told parents and advocates at a District 2 Community Education Council town hall meeting Monday night.

"We want to continue the conversation," he said, however he cautioned that while "we hope to find a solution that's good for everybody, we may not."

Sternberg sent a letter last Wednesday to officials, including City Councilman Daniel Garodnick and others who have advocated for incubation. The letter outlined several concerns with the proposal, including the fact that students would have to take buses to get there.

"Please know that while we appreciate your suggestion to incubate P.S. 281, East 35th Street and First Avenue, early in September 2012 to alleviate P.S. 116 overcrowding, after a thorough assessment of enrollment and overcrowding data, input from P.S. 116 Principal Jane Hsu, and a careful evaluation of potential incubation sites, we have reservations and concerns regarding an early incubation proposal," he wrote, arguing that move would "unnecessarily burden students with a long commute."

Parents at P.S. 116 have raised red flags about overcrowding at P.S. 116, with kids being forced to eat lunch as early at 10:30 a.m., and then not having enough time to finish their meals because another class needs access.

“Simply put, the school is full,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of Community Board 5's education committee and a parents at P.S. 116, who described the Meeth site as "a perfect option."

She said the school was a uniquely diverse place, with many low-income families that need support.

"The quality of life of the children has degraded to abysmal levels," she said in prepared testimony, adding that, while P.S. 116 teachers “are beyond phenomenal, they simply cannot perform miracles in classrooms packed with so many kids.”

Community boards 5 and 6, as well as the District 2 CEC have all passed resolutions in support of the incubation, and the Coalition of East Side Elected Officials wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in October urging him to move the incubation process forward.

"P.S. 116 has been beset by capacity challenges for a number of years now, resulting in frequent kindergarten wait lists, the loss of gifted and talented and pre-kindergarten programs, and class sizes above contractual limits," they wrote.

They again reiterated their support Monday night.

"The overcrowding at P.S. 116 has been there for years and now the situation at the kindergarten level is really not acceptable," City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said.

State Sen. Liz Krueger said she thought incubation was a great model for every new school.

"I would urge them to re-think that," she said of the initial DOE rejection.

Michael Markowitz, a member of CEC 2, said that he was pleased to see the DOE appear more open to the incubation idea, but warned that time is running out.

"I’m very heartened to hear some flexibility on the part of the DOE," he said.

With reporting by Mary Johnson