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Pre-K Has Dozens of Empty Seats Despite Nearby Program Shuttering

By Janet Upadhye | July 24, 2014 10:37am
 P.S. 307 is located on York Street in Vinegar Hill.
P.S. 307 is located on York Street in Vinegar Hill.
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DNAinfo.com/Janet Upadhye

VINEGAR HILL — Last year, P.S. 8's pre-K program in Brooklyn Heights was more selective than many of the country's top colleges, with 405 students vying for a mere 36 spots.

The Department of Education shut down the program this year, citing overcrowding, and moved the seats just a few blocks away to P.S. 307 — but parents haven't followed. Despite the clear demand for pre-K in the neighborhood, P.S. 307 still has dozens of empty seats available for this fall.

DUMBO mom and organizer, Katharina Goetz, who has met with P.S. 307's principal Roberta Davenport on several occasions to strategize how to boost interest in the school, thinks some parents may be overlooking it.

"It is often forgotten because the neighborhoods are so separate," she said, referring to Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO and the area around the Farragut Houses where P.S. 307 is located. 

Last year P.S. 307 and P.S. 8 were the only two public school options near DUMBO and northern Brooklyn Heights but they experienced very different levels of interest in their pre-K programs.

P.S. 8, in Brooklyn Heights, was one of the hardest pre-K programs to get into in the city, with only 9 percent of applicants accepted to the program.

P.S. 307, located around 8 blocks away, accepted 53 percent of applicants, with 53 students vying for 28 spots.

P.S. 8 discontinued its pre-K program in November 2013 due to overcrowding and P.S. 307 boosted its number of seats from 24 to 108 in January thanks to a $1.8 million federal magnet grant.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said extra seats were added at P.S. 307 to absorb some of the overflow of students who would have applied to P.S. 8.

"Due to an increase in kindergarten enrollment at P.S. 8 we shifted two full-day pre-K sections from P.S. 8 to P.S. 307," he said.

But fewer than 80 students have applied to the program since March, according Chris Ferrara, business manager for the school.

Goetz is hoping to rustle up some interest in the school.

"I am trying to get people open-minded about the school because it is a great program," she said citing P.S. 307's science lab with live animals, Mandarin language classes, large private yard and phenomenal music classes.

She plans to send her son, who was born in 2011, there when he is old enough for pre-K.

The program will also focus on reading skills along with math, science, nutrition and social studies and provide a range of fun and creative activities, including visual and theater arts, music instruction and sand-and-water exploration, according to the principal. 

The school boasts partnerships with the Noel Pointer Foundation, The Brooklyn Philharmonic, The Brooklyn Ballet, Music in the Brain, Mark Morris Dance Center and Bargemusic. It received a B grade for student performance last year.

Historically only children who live in the Farragut Houses were allowed to attend the school because of zoning but thanks to the federal magnet grant, the school now accepts both zoned and non-zoned students, according to Servena Narine, magnet resource specialist at P.S. 307.

Some people who live at Farragut Houses believe parents who live in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights think P.S. 307 is unsafe.

"There is a big difference between living in Brooklyn Heights and living here even though it is just blocks away," said Naqueen Aaron, 22, whose daughter recently finished the pre-K program at P.S. 307. "They don't feel safe for their children to come here, it's too hood for them."

Still Goetz is hoping to change parent's minds, many of whom are eyeing expensive private school programs, about the school.

"I am asking parents to take another look."

Registration at P.S. 307 will remain open until the spaces are filled. Parents can register at the school, located at 209 York St., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information call 718-834-4748.