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Parents Turn to Magnet Schools to Escape Overcrowding

By Emily Frost | February 11, 2013 7:24am

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Upper West Side's District 3 is known for having committed parents who get involved in their schools, especially at the popular P.S. 87, P.S. 199 and P.S. 75.

But Marisa Maack, chairwoman of Community Board 7's education committee, urges families to look beyond just the most well-known programs in the neighborhood.

"I think that there’s a lot of brand-name consciousness on the UWS [when it comes to schools]," Maack said. "There are a lot of other great, great schools in the district."

Magnet elementary schools are among those fighting for greater notice from Upper West Side parents.

In 2010, eight District 3 schools were awarded $11.3 million by the federal government to adopt themes such as engineering, the environment and diplomacy. The schools also used the funding to bring in state-of-the art technology and pay for 60 hours of professional development for each staff member.

Though the federal funding is ending this year, the improvements will continue, according to Lainie Leber, director of magnet schools for District 3. 

"Once you’re a magnet school, you’re always a magnet school," she said. "All of the work we’ve done is supposed to be sustainable."

Some of the magnet schools have seen academic gains over the past few years, including P.S. 208, the Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship on West 111th Street, which earned a B on its most recent Department of Education progress report. The school rose from the 31st percentile in the city's 2010 ranking of elementary schools to the 42nd percentile in 2012, based on test scores, student progress and the school's environment, according to DOE figures.

Unlike the magnet schools, many of the neighborhood's zoned schools are still suffering from overcrowding, but parents said there has recently been less panic about waitlists at the most prized schools.

At P.S. 87 on West 78th Street, for example, there were 111 students on the kindergarten waitlist in the spring of 2010, but only 30 as of April of 2012.

One father added that even the most popular schools have let many children in off the waitlist over the past couple of years, which has also helped quell the anxiety. 

Still, a report issued by the real estate investment services firm Eastern Consolidated found that 1,600 new kids will arrive in the area by 2015, thanks to the addition of 10,000 new housing units.

One long-term solution is the creation of a new District 3 school at the Riverside Center development at West 60th Street and West End Avenue. The new P.S./I.S. 342 is slated to serve 488 K-8 students and is expected to open in the fall of 2016.

Here are some of the Upper West Side's noteworthy public elementary schools:

P.S. 87, The William T. Sherman School, 160 W. 78th St.

P.S. 87 is known in the neighborhood as a coveted school with an annual waiting list. With help from City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the school is spending $1.3 million to rebuild its aging play yard, which will only add to its appeal come fall 2013 when the project is expected to wrap up. The school, whose motto is "a community without walls," has also been the recipient of a magnet grant of a little more than $1 million, which it put toward purchasing technology such as cameras and iPads and making curricular improvements. 

P.S. 334, The Anderson School, 100 W. 77th St.

Students from all over the city can apply for this gifted and talented school, but to get in, they must score in the 97th percentile or above on the city's gifted test. Kindergartners begin learning chess and Spanish right away, but what most impressed parent Joli Golden, whose son attends the school and who described the curriculum as a "stellar academic program," is that each classroom has both a teacher and a teaching assistant.

P.S. 199, Jessie Isador Straus, 270 W. 70th St.

P.S. 199 Parent Association President Eric Shuffler said the "very involved parent body" is part of what makes the school successful, calling the families "strong" and "resourceful." Shuffler also said the teaching quality is excellent, and there are many extracurricular programs, including a cultural arts program in every grade that teaches students about architecture, among other subjects.

P.S. 75, Emily Dickinson, 735 West End Ave.

P.S. 75 is known for its Spanish dual-language program and even received a visit from Her Royal Highness Princess Letizia of Spain in June 2012 to mark the school's designation as an International Spanish Academy — the first in New York State — by the Spanish government. The program attracts a diverse population to the school, with many students whose parents were born in Mexico or other Spanish-speaking countries. However, school overcrowding means that only children living within District 3 can attend P.S. 75.

P.S. 9, The Sarah Anderson School, 100 W. 84th St.

P.S. 9 once had the most popular gifted and talented program in the neighborhood, but the DOE decided to phase it out starting with the incoming kindergarten class in 2011, citing overcrowding in the district. But the school has remained very popular, performing well in math and English and engaging in special partnerships with New York City cultural institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York City Ballet and Carnegie Hall. In keeping with this focus on culture, Insideschools.org reports that P.S. 9's art program is particularly strong, with artwork covering the hallways.