UPPER EAST SIDE — Elementary school ranks have swelled in recent years on the Upper East Side and parents are now clamoring for a new middle school, hoping to plan ahead before the situation becomes a "crisis."
The timing may be ripe. P.S. 267, which started up last year to ease elementary school overcrowding, is slated to move to its permanent home on East 63rd Street next year and vacate the space it shares with P.S. 158 on York Avenue and East 77th Street — a building that once housed a middle school.
But while many parents are in agreement on creating a new middle school, debate is raging over what kind of school it should be: for gifted and talented or for general education.
Parents from P.S. 77, or Lower Lab as the small gifted and talented school is called, are eyeing the space to expand their specialized program into a middle school.
Lower Lab has been angling to create a middle school for years.
Others, however, criticized the Lower Lab parents — who turned out en force at a Community Board 8 education committee meeting on Tuesday night — for wanting to create an exclusive school.
“There is a scarcity of gifted and talented seats,” David Cohen, a parent of a Lower Lab student, told the crowd at the meeting.
He said there were 750 students who qualified for gifted programs but not enough seats for them in District 2, which also includes Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan.
A Lower Lab middle school in the P.S. 158 building would likely be comprised of 40 to 50 existing Lower Lab students, Cohen said, leaving 60 percent of the seats open to other students and thereby freeing up space in East Side Middle School and elsewhere.
“I don’t think there’s any debate that the Upper East Side needs quality middle school seats,” Lower Lab parent Michael Grey said. “It would seem like a shame to let an opportunity pass us by when space is hard to come by.”
Many Lower Lab parents said it would help to create a “desirable”, that is, gifted and talented, school with a proven leadership that could get things up and running quickly. The elementary school would continue to operate in the space it shares with P.S. 198 on Third Avenue and East 93rd Street.
But parents from other schools weren’t convinced a gifted program was the way to go.
“I think a parent would feel more comfortable knowing there is a place for their child to go,” said Jackie Filler, a parent of a student at P.S. 151. “We need a general education middle school available to all Upper East Side kids.”
Lori Levin, another P.S. 151 parent, added, “I think it’s important to stop looking at the labels and look at what’s good for all our children.”
Andy Lachman, of Parent Leaders of Upper East Side Schools, said the Department of Education should provide data — which he has long requested — to help shed light on the area's needs.
“It needs to be determined by data,” Lachman said. “We always concentrate on high performing students. What about the low performing students? I’m not advocating for a specific school, but we need the data.”
This year, he noted, more than 400 students applied for East Side Middle School’s 120 seats. “Our middle schools have amazing educators, but have a problem with overcrowding,” he said. “There are more kids than the schools can handle.”
The DOE did not immediately respond to DNAinfo’s request for data.
P.S. 158 — which itself doesn’t want to expand into the whole building — would welcome a middle school, said parent Simon Miller (who also sits on District 2’s Community Education Council).
He said that having a middle school on the building’s two upper floors was preferable than sharing space with an elementary school since the schools would have different start and end times, and that middle schoolers tend to eat out, rather than in the cafeteria.
A middle school there was “far better than any other use,” he said.
There is some urgency to determine what will happen in the vacant P.S. 158 space. The Department of Education is currently looking to rezone the area’s elementary schools, and the size of P.S. 158’s zone may need to change depending on how much space it will have when a new tenant moves in.
CB8’s education committee passed a resolution on Tuesday in support of using P.S. 158’s building for a middle school, though it did not weigh in on a specific program. It also recommended that the DOE make a decision before deciding on the rezoning.