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Upper West Side School Wait-List Controversy Settled Amicably, Parents Relieved

By Leslie Albrecht | August 13, 2010 6:53am | Updated on August 13, 2010 10:11am
The Upper West Side's P.S. 87 on W. 78th Street had the longest waiting list in the city. Some families who didn't get slots at the school will send their children to the new P.S. 452, a block away.
The Upper West Side's P.S. 87 on W. 78th Street had the longest waiting list in the city. Some families who didn't get slots at the school will send their children to the new P.S. 452, a block away.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Filmmaker Eric Drath won an Emmy award for his HBO documentary "Assault in the Ring" the same week his 4-year-old daughter Haley got a coveted slot at the Upper West Side's P.S. 87.

Guess which one he was more excited about.

"As much as I wanted to win the Emmy, I thought it was more important for my daughter to get into the school," Drath told DNAinfo.

The story is just one example of the anxiety that gripped Upper West Side parents this past spring when P.S. 87, on West 78th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, became ground zero for New York's school over-crowding crisis.

The well-regarded school had the longest waiting list in the city — 111 students — and parents were shocked to learn that they might not be able to send their kids to their neighborhood school.

But now that the dust has settled, and the new school year is about to begin, even parents who didn't get seats at P.S. 87 — or an Emmy award — say they're fairly happy with how things turned out.

The students who did not get a spot at P.S. 87 were placed at P.S. 452, a new school created inside a junior high school just one block away from P.S. 87.

Though some say that doesn't make up for what they see as poor planning on the part of the Department of Education.

"The end result of it doesn't justify the months and months of anxiety and the complete incompetence of the DOE," said P.S. 87 parent Marcy Drogin. "It was still an incredibly difficult process and one that we hope to avoid next year."

Being turned away from a neighborhood school was a hard pill to swallow for many families, especially those who had bought or rented apartments in the area assuming they could send their kids to P.S. 87.

The situation grew more tense in May when the Department of Education mistakenly informed about 65 families they had won slots at P.S. 87.

Some who were initially disappointed with placements at the new school are now pleased, said Rachel Laiserin, co-president of the P.S. 87 Parents Association.

"Now that they've gotten over the initial shock and disappointment of not getting into P.S. 87, where they expected to go for many years, they're kind of excited to be part of a new neighborhood venture," Laiserin said.

At first parents like Karen Denker said they dreaded ending up at P.S. 452, a school that until recently had no principal, no classrooms and no teachers.

Denker, who's lived in the neighborhood since 1994, said she had always assumed she would send her 5-year-old son Benjamin to P.S. 87. She was disheartened in March when she wound up at number 82 on the wait list to get into the school around the corner from her house.

Instead, Benjamin was offered a slot at the new P.S. 452 on West 77th Street in mid June. At first she was skeptical about the new school, but now Decker says she's excited to send her son there.

She's met the principal, and said he seems like a dynamic leader who's hired good teachers. She's also met other parents who put her at ease, she said.

"They're clearly the kind of committed involved families that you hope are at a school where you send your child," Denker said.

The new school means P.S. 87 will be less crowded this year, and Laiserin said she's glad the students and teachers will get some breathing room.

However, the changes come at a cost, she said.

P.S. 87 isn't as diverse as it once was, because the school no longer draws from outlying neighborhoods to fill its ranks, Laiserin said.

The percentage of students receiving free lunches at the school is lower than it was five years ago, Laiserin said.

Laiserin and Denker both said that some parents couldn't stand the stress and uncertainty of the wait list, and ended up sending their kids to private school, moving out of the city altogether, or enrolling their children in gifted and talented programs at far-off schools.

"It's an odd feeling to have a neighborhood public school that turns away people," Laiserin said. "P.S. 87 has always been about welcoming people, so the psychological effects are difficult."

She added, "It's easy for the Department of Education to say, it worked out and everyone got a spot, but that discounts the views of people who said, I can't take this, it's so horrible that I'm doing something else."