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New Park Slope School Will Use 'Multicultural Approach,' Principal Says

By Leslie Albrecht | January 23, 2013 12:36pm

PARK SLOPE — The presumed principal of Park Slope's new P.S. 118 says she'll use a "multicultural approach" to prep students for college and the world.

Elizabeth Garraway — who's expected to take the reins at the new school but hasn't been officially appointed principal yet — spoke to hundreds of parents at a packed open house Wednesday night at P.S. 118, which will open this fall in the former St. Thomas Aquinas school building at 211 Eighth St.

The new school was created during a contentious rezoning process last fall that shrunk the zones for popular P.S. 321 and P.S. 107 and enlarged the zone for P.S. 10. The new school will serve kids who until now had lived on the western side of P.S. 321's zone, roughly between Third and Fourth avenues and President and Sixth Street.

Many parents were bitterly disappointed to be cut out of P.S. 321's zone — especially those who had bought or rented homes specifically to be in the high-performing school's zone. But at Wednesday's meeting some parents said they were putting that setback behind them to focus on making P.S. 118 into Park Slope's "next great school."

"We do have a unique opportunity to build something new, something fresh together," Garraway said, adding that she's already met several times with parents to make plans for the new school.

Garraway is currently an assistant principal at P.S. 321 and told parents she may hire a teacher or two from P.S. 321. She'll also work closely with P.S. 321 principal Liz Phillips, who will mentor Garraway through a special program for the next three years.

"I'm really excited about working with Elizabeth and her staff and the whole community to make this another great Park Slope school," Phillips said. "It's a very, very exciting endeavor and I'm kind of jealous of [Garraway] that she's going to have a nice, small community where she's going to know every child so well."

P.S. 118 will have just 50 kindergarten students divided into two classes in the fall of 2013, Garraway said. The school will have one full-day pre-K class of 18 students, and Garraway has requested a second class.

Garraway, a graduate of Midwood High School who's worked in public education for 17 years, said she has a master's degree in Spanish language and literature and anthropology and studied in Europe for seven years. She said she'll draw on her international experiences at P.S. 118 and plans to "infuse" the school with Spanish, perhaps by making morning announcements in Spanish or by teaching songs in Spanish.

"My background is in language, culture and people, and what's important to me is to use that background in the work that I do," Garraway said. She said she'll use a "multicultural approach" throughout the school — in reading, math, literature, science and "everything that we do in the classroom and outside of the classroom."

Garraway said she plans to use the Everyday Mathematics math curriculum and said science instruction will start at the pre-K level. P.S. 321 will be a "sister school" to P.S. 118, but Garraway said she'll also reach out to other neighborhood schools like P.S. 39 to form partnerships. She's working on developing a "Meet the Writers" program and has contacted the YMCA and Bean Sprouts about possible after-school programs.

Currently the St. Thomas Aquinas building houses P.S. 133, which has 17 classes, but Garraway said she's been told P.S. 118 will eventually grow to 14 classes. That will leave room in the building for extras like an art studio, she said.

"We will put out kids who are college ready, who are ready for the world," Garraway said.

Parents have already formed a group called P.S. 118 Founding Families whose mission is to funnel money and resources to the fledgling school. The group has plans to improve P.S. 118's playground and to build a learning garden. About 50 families have already signed up for the group, leaders said at Wednesday's open house.

Mom Jane-Marie Hitch said she left the open house feeling "positive" about P.S. 118. Hitch and her husband moved to Park Slope in July 2012 and specifically chose a home inside the coveted P.S. 321 zone. Just three months later, the Department of Education unveiled a new zone for the school that cut Hitch's family out.

"When I first heard the news, I was shocked and upset, but after being here and learning about Ms. Garraway, it sounds really promising," Hitch said. "In fact, it could be even better [than P.S. 321] because of the smaller size."