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Community Demands Full Day Pre-K as Part of $150 Million Columbia Deal

By Jeff Mays | March 15, 2012 9:04am

HARLEM — Parents and members of a West Harlem community board are lobbying for the new Teachers College Elementary School to offer full day pre-K in the fall after administrators announced it would instead have two half-day sessions serving a total of 36 students.

The pre-K was promised as part of a $150 million community benefits agreement with Columbia University which is building a new $6.3 billion West Harlem campus on 17 acres of land from West 129th to West 133rd streets, between Broadway and 12 Avenue.

But half-day sessions would throw too many obstacles at working parents who need to make arrangements for their kids to be picked up, and may hinder the West Harlem community from benefiting from the school by discouraging applicants, Community Board 9 said.

"The research shows full day pre-K is more effective," said Joe Rogers Jr., chair of CB 9's Youth and Education Committee.

"If we don't have a proper start with full day pre-K, we are getting off on the wrong foot," said board member Judith Insell.

Representatives from Teachers College said the decision regarding half-day or full-day pre-K is out of their hands.

"The decisions in terms of length of the session of pre-K and funding, those decisions are made by the Department of Education, period," said Jim Gardner, associate vice-president for external affairs for Teachers College.

"It's not within our rights, means or responsibility to determine what, if any, pre-K we will have, length of sessions or how many students. All of those decisions are public policy."

The DOE was not immediately available for comment.

It isn't the first time that CB 9 and parents have taken Teachers College and the DOE to task for failing to provide what they felt was the level of service promised when the school was included as part of the community benefits agreement.

Last year, the school faced criticism and pressure after it announced it would only serve students in a portion of CB 9 and would only be a K-5 school as oppossed to a K-8 school as originally promised.

Members of the community accused Columbia of reneging on its original promise and the school soon agreed to accept students from all of CB 9 and to provided buses to a temporary location in East Harlem.

The school is scheduled to relocate to the site of the closed St. Joseph's Catholic School on Morningside Ave between 126th and 127th streets in the fall. The location could allow the school to expand to the eighth grade.

CB 9 members have proposed reaching out to the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, the group responsible for distributing $150 million in funds from the CBA, to fund full day pre-K, said Rogers.

"If at such time the resources become available we will explore possibitly of full day pre-K," said Gardner.

"If that child does not get a solid foundation in pre-K they will not develop the way we want them to," said CB 9 chair Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas.