WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A new school is coming to Washington Heights this fall — but some local parents fear its arrival means the death knell for a struggling, decades-old school.
Dos Puentes Elementary School, which will be located at 185 Wadsworth Ave., will open its doors to its first kindergarten class in September. It was one of 78 new schools announced by the Department of Education and Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week.
Dos Puentes principal Victoria Hunt, 47, said the zoned school will offer a comprehensive program built around support for bilingual students and their families.
"The biggest thing is to build from the strength that they bring from home and use that as an entryway into a more rigorous education," said Hunt, who has over 20 years of experience teaching English language learners in Perú, Texas, Washington D.C. and New York City.
Hunt, who wrote the proposal for Dos Puentes in October, said the school will look to offer language classes for parents and families and will deliver hands-on experience to students through field trips and community work. Hunt added that the school will form partnerships with Teacher's College and City College.
The Dos Puentes school is new but it will be based in a decades-old building — it will be co-located at the Wadsworth Avenue structure with P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte.
Juan Pablo Duarte was threatened with closure in December after receiving consecutive "D" grades on the DOE progress report cards. After community outrage, elected officials joined the fight to keep the school open.
The DOE relented and removed the school from its closure list and instead announced plans in January to co-locate a second school, Dos Puentes, in the building.
Dos Puentes will open to 80 kindergartners and add a grade every year until leveling off at nearly 500 students in grades K-5 in 2018-2019. Juan Pablo Duarte, on the other hand, will see its enrollment from 763 this year to around 300 in 2018.
Neighborhood watchdogs say that plan to co-locate a school with P.S. 132 was pushed through without community approval and fear it is just a backdoor ploy to phase out the long-standing school.
"It pretty much came out of the blue," said Community Education Council member Tony Kelso. "We weren't consulted about the initial proposal.
"What we speculate is that the school is being phased out slowly," Kelso added. "They caught so much flack for talking about closing it that they decided to do it gradually."
DOE officials insist, however, that Juan Pablo Duarte isn't being phased out. In response to a March 19 hearing on the co-location, the department noted that P.S. 132 will continue to accept new students, only fewer, and stated that the smaller enrollment would help the struggling school better serve its students.
"The DOE also believes that P.S.132’s performance may improve once it has fewer students to focus on," the DOE wrote in its response. "Thus, this proposal gives P.S. 132 more time to improve."
DOE spokesman Devon Puglia added that co-location is not unique to P.S. 132.
“There are co-locations in schools across the city. And when adults put children first, most are very successful,” Puglia said.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the district and campaigned against the closure of Juan Pablo Duarte, hailed the new school.
"Going forward, students of all ethnicities will have an opportunity to learn in an environment attuned to their needs," Rodriguez said. "I am committed to working with principals of both schools to see that all students receive the quality education they need."
For all of the concern around Dos Puentes' arrival, Hunt said that parents have not expressed any fears to her, and said she looked forward to working the staff at P.S. 132. In fact, Hunt added that both schools will host a joint open house in April.
"I hope I can form whatever bridges I can with [P.S.] 132 to make it a successful environment for students of both schools," she said.
For more information on Dos Puentes Elementary School, parents can email email@example.com.