MELROSE – The Department of Education has called off its proposal to co-locate a new elementary school in the building of P.S.1 a day after parents, teachers and elected officials spoke out against the plan.
The city had wanted to start gradually “phasing in” the new school in September 2014, adding one grade a year while reducing P.S.1’s enrollment. Critics said the proposal would damage students, put teachers’ jobs at risk and hinder the progress the school has recently made.
The city's plan was slammed at a raucous public hearing on Wednesday night.
“As with all proposals, we sought out and listened to feedback from the community,” said Harry Hartfield, a DOE spokesman, in a statement. “As a result we have decided not to reduce the school’s enrollment at this time and are withdrawing our proposal to co-locate a new elementary school in the building.”
School staff said the school earned a B performance score this year, up from a C last year and a D the year before. They said the proposal for co-location lowered students’ and teachers’ morale.
“Over the past several years P.S. 1 struggled to improve the educational outcomes of its students,” said Hartfield, adding that data backed the school’s claims that is has been making steady progress. “The proposal to co-locate a new elementary school in the building while reducing P.S. 1’s enrollment was meant to allow the school to focus on a smaller cohort of students, while providing a new high-quality elementary school option in the district.”
The school’s administration was informed of the decision on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, teachers said they were elated with the news.
“We’re very pleased that our voice was heard,” said Luisa Valentin, a fifth grade teacher and chair of P.S.1’s School Leadership Team. “We are doing very well comparing to other schools. We performed. We won this battle.”
Brenda Cartagena, a fourth grade teacher and representative of the teachers' union at P.S.1, said she is "ecstatic" about the decision.
"Usually when they decide to do it, they kind of just roll over everybody and just do it," she said. "But because we've done good work at the school, we were able to overturn it. It wouldn't have been possible if we didn't show that we have been improving."
Valentin believes that the big turnout in support of the school on Wednesday night affected the DOE’s turnaround.
Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who represents District 17 in the Bronx, also praised the DOE's decision.
"It's refreshing to see that the DOE has listened to the school community's concerns," she said. "This doesn't happen very often."
Arroyo added that she remains concerned about co-location being implemented in other schools in her district.
"There are always concerns about co-location," she said. "Very few work very well. Most often there is a great deal of conflict that is not conducive to our students learning in the best environment."