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Parents Protest Proposed Admissions Plan for New UES Middle School

 Parents worry that the admissions criteria for a proposed Yorkville middle school are "unprecedented."
Parents worry that the admissions criteria for a proposed Yorkville middle school are "unprecedented."
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DNAinfo/Victoria Bekiempis

YORKVILLE — Local parents and politicians are fighting back against a Department of Education proposal that would use an "unprecedented" hybrid admissions process for a new middle school.

The DOE wants the middle school planed for vacant sections of popular P.S. 158 to admit students who meet somewhat stringent admissions criteria, such as good attendance records or test scores, as well as students who would meet lower standards, according to a notice released by the department.

Under the proposal, half of the expected 300 students would have to meet the higher performance standards while the others — who could be admitted by taking a school tour or signing up for information at a fair, for example — could gain entry based on less stringent criteria, the notice stated.

These two approaches to school admission are referred to as "screened" and "limited unscreened."

Though some middle schools in District 2, of which the Upper East Side is a part, admit a mix of "screened" and zoned students, information on the DOE's website suggests that no other comparable schools have a similar model.

Education activists wanted no part of the apparent admissions experiment in their neighborhood.

"It's unprecedented in District 2," said Matthew Chook, P.S. 267 PTA co-president.

Chook, who has convened with parents and educators in the area, said they overwhelmingly want a school with stricter admissions criteria and a community that includes "actively engaged parents involved in the PTA."

Chook said the students meeting less stringent criteria might go to the school after fifth-grade simply because it's an option — not because they or their parents particularly care about the school.

"Who's to say where those kids are coming from, and what their academics are, what their abilities are, and how they've performed to date, and where they're going?" he said.

Students who must meet more stringent criteria, by contrast, might be "very strong in certain areas and want to be there," he said.

"It will probably be difficult, extremely challenging, for a principal or for a school to have any sort of programming because they're catering to all different types of children," he said. "It's going to be a very mixed up student body."

Andy Lachman, head of Parent Leaders of Upper East Side Schools, said he, too, was worried because he didn't know how well such a school might perform.

"What does it look like? Show us some schools that have successfully performed with this. Show us that it has the criteria that we want," he said. "Until those questions are answered, we need more information to see how this works."

City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, Assemblymen Dan Quart and Micah Kellner, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, among other area elected officials, have asked the DOE to reconsider the plan before the Panel for Education Policy votes on the issue June 19.

The DOE, however, said the model is not new — and that 120 middle schools citywide have a mixed selection process.

The department, however, did not furnish a list of these schools when requested.

Education officials also believe the proposed admissions set-up would be best for the community.

"We’ve listened to local parents, and the admissions criteria at this school reflects our balancing the various voices and feedback we’ve gotten from them," DOE officials said in a statement. "This will be a terrific learning environment that is inclusive and meets the neighborhood’s needs.”

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for 6 p.m. on June 4 at P.S. 158-The Bayard Taylor School, 1458 York Ave. at East 78th Street.