MELROSE — Plans to co-locate a new school in the building of P.S. 1 have been criticized as creating divisions and hindering progress the facility has recently made.
Parents, teachers and local officials filled the school’s auditorium for an often rowdy public hearing on Wednesday night.
Accompanied by a choir of “no queremos!” and “leave P.S.1 alone,” speaker after speaker took to the mic to denounce what they claimed is the city’s failed practice to add new schools to the buildings of underperforming ones.
Parents called the proposal “a joke” and said the DOE had turned the South Bronx district — one of the lowest performing in the country — into a “dumping ground for co-location” without any evidence that the practice has any positive effect on educational achievement.
“Breaking up the school will only disservice our students,” Luisa Valentin, a fifth grade teacher and chair of P.S.1’s School Leadership Team, said at the hearing.
“We’re a big family here. We like it very much and we want to stay this way.”
The Department of Education's proposal, which will be voted on at the end of the month, would create a new elementary school in the building at 335 East 153 St., opening in September 2014.
The department plans to reduce enrollment at P.S.1, also known as the Courtlandt School, over the course of six years in order to make room for the new school which would be “phased in” with a new grade each year, starting with kindergarten.
Critics of the proposal said P.S. 1 would be “phased out” in the process and questioned the logic behind a proposal that would essentially leave school enrollment and space utilization unchanged.
“It’s more expensive to start a school from the ground up rather than to support an existing, progressing school,” said Desiree Galarza, a parent representative at the school.
Like many speakers, she asked that the DOE invest instead in more resources for P.S.1.
Participants at the hearing wondered why co-location — usually reserved for the most underperforming schools — was proposed for P.S.1, which school staff said earned a B performance rating this year, up from a C last year and a D the year before.
Teachers said it has the potential to be an A school.
“Many of the schools that have been through the co-location process were failing schools. We at P.S.1, however, have evidence that we are improving all the time,” said Brenda Cartagena, a fourth grade teacher and representative of the teachers’ union.
“Co-location has already brought down morale among students and teachers because the resounding message we are hearing is that we are not good enough.”
Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who represents the South Bronx and has two great-grandchildren at the school, called the proposal “stupid.”
“Go back and tell these people that they are choosing the wrong school,” she told Yolanda Torres, the DOE’s superintendent for District 7, which includes Melrose.
Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo doubled down on the criticism.
“This administration has not proven that co-location works,” del Carmen Arroyo said. “What we usually end up seeing are divisions within the school, challenges and problems.”
Torres, the superintendent, said she took note of the critics’ concerns.
“The community has spoken,” she said. “The comments will be reported and the PeP will listen and make a decision.”
A vote on the proposal is scheduled for October 30. Hearing participants hoped the proposal would be rejected.
“Why try to fix something that’s not broken?” Valentin said.