HARLEM — Talk to Harlem parents, students and educators, and the tension between charter schools and district public schools is evident.
Harlem has one of the highest co-location rates in the city, and the battle for space and resources starts at the elementary level.
"We are literally competing for space," said Noah Gotbaum, member of the District 3 Community Education Council. "It's the way the charters come into the schools and...parents and students have to face the loss of resources."
And while some Harlem public schools have long struggled with a high number of English-language learners and children facing difficult social issues, parts of the neighborhood are seeing gentrification that has led fierce competition for schools that are rapidly improving.
Sylvia Weir and her husband have daughters in the first and third grades at the sought-after P.S. 180 on West 120th Street. The neighborhood, anchored by new developments and restaurants on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, has changed dramatically in the five years since Weir's daughter started pre-K.
"We are working to get people who are new to the neighborhood and people who have been here for a long time to work together to make it a great environment for the kids," Weir said.
"The kids don't understand these dynamics. They just want to learn and have a good time."
A major boost to Harlem schools came in the form of a three-year, $11 million federal magnet grant that sought to desegregate schools. The grant serves at least 3,000 Harlem students, including kids at P.S. 185 Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School on West 112th Street and P.S. 208 Alaine L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship on West 111th Street.
Other strong public elementary schools include the Hamilton Heights School on Amsterdam Avenue, where all second-through-fifth-graders are required to take Arabic language classes as part of the curriculum. After struggling with recreation space, Principal Nicky Kram Rosen was able to create a "play street" on neighboring West 147th Street.
And parents say the after-school program, which offers theater classes and runs from 3 to 6 p.m., makes a big difference.
"We are trying to address the concerns parents have, meet their needs and utilize the resources that come to us," Rosen said.
In District 5, which covers Central Harlem, parents should look beyond the Department of Education's progress report grades for the schools, said Jones, the Community Education Council president.
"We have schools that are serving our children well, but you can't see it on a progress report," Jones said.
One example is P.S. 30 on East 128th Street, a school that received a C and a D on its most recent progress reports, according to the DOE.
But P.S. 30 is an important part of the community, because it is implementing a program to provide services including mental health and medical care to children at the school, through local partners, Jones said.
"There are programs being offered that develop the whole child," she said.
Here are some of Harlem's noteworthy public elementary schools:
P.S. 208, Alaine Locke, 21 W. 111th St.
Students at this school, which serves students from the third grade to fifth grades, delve into technology and study the environment. The school is part of a federal magnet grant program that seeks to add diversity to Harlem schools.
Located near Morningside Heights, this school is one of the most sought-after in Harlem. It is known for its cooperative attitude between parents and administrators. The school is focused on moving kids toward college.
P.S. 182, The Bilingual Bicultural School, 219 E. 109 St.
Parents love this small Spanish-English bilingual school for the level of caring teachers show to students. The school moves English-language learners toward fluency as quickly as possible.
Teachers College Community School, 168 Morningside Ave.
A partnership between the DOE and Teachers College, the school model seeks to integrate academic and non-academic support services, including early childhood education, family engagement and after-school programming. The school will also serve as a development site for educators-in-training as well as experienced teachers and administrators. Teachers College officials want the school to serve as a model that can be duplicated on both the local and national levels.
P.S. 129, John H. Finley, 425 W. 130 St.
After getting A's on its first three Department of Education progress reports, P.S. 129 slipped to a C and then rebounded back to a B. The school lets students be involved in decision-making and collaborates with local institutions such as CUNY and the Harlem Y.
P.S. 153, Adam Clayton Powell, 1750 Amsterdam Ave.
The school has used data-driven instruction to score A's on all of its Department of Education progress reports.
Hamilton Heights School, 1750 Amsterdam Ave.
Students stay busy at this Hamilton Heights K-5 school, where all second-through-fifth graders are required to take Arabic language classes, making it the first of its kind in New York City to integrate Arabic into the curriculum.