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Families Launch 'Selfie' Campaign to Demand New Schools

By Leslie Albrecht | January 20, 2015 7:40am
 Some parents tired of waiting for new schools want the city to consider putting one on Third Avenue.
Parents Demand New Schools in Sunset Park
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SUNSET PARK — Parents who say they've spent a decade waiting for the city to open new schools in crowded Sunset Park have launched a selfie campaign to shine a spotlight on the issue.

The District 15 Community Education Council wants parents and kids to post photos of themselves holding signs saying "#WeCantWait" and then share the pictures on social media.

The selfie-fueled activism is aimed at the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education, said District 15 CEC president Naila Rosario. It's part of a statewide effort by the nonprofit Alliance for Quality Education that's calling for funding for public schools.

In Sunset Park, the issue isn't funding — it's space. The city has allocated tens of millions of dollars for two new elementary schools for the neighborhood for the past 10 years, but they haven't opened because officials haven't found space to house them, Rosario and DOE officials said.

 A classroom at P.S. 295, an arts-focused school in the South Slope. In recent years the school has taken in students from overcrowded schools in Sunset Park.
A classroom at P.S. 295, an arts-focused school in the South Slope. In recent years the school has taken in students from overcrowded schools in Sunset Park.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

“It’s time we get the schools we’ve been promised," Rosario said. "There’s been all this development in Sunset Park — Bed, Bath and Beyond is opening, Industry City is coming up, new hotels — everything is happening except for a school.”

The CEC is calling on parents to crowd the CEC's next meeting on Jan. 27 to send a message to the city.

A DOE spokesman confirmed that the School Construction Authority is "currently assessing the best locations" for two new school projects in Sunset Park, and added that the agency also plans to add 115 seats to Sunset Park's P.S. 516.

Rosario and other neighborhood leaders say one possible solution to the longtime problem is to put new schools on Third Avenue, a location that's been considered off limits in the past because the six-lane street is an industrial strip and a trucking route.

“At this point in time we may have no choice but to look there,” said District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop.

“But it has to be something that the community would approve of. People have been very concerned about little ones crossing and the truck traffic.”

Skop said the SCA has been hunting unsuccessfully for sites where it could either lease space or build new schools since she became superintendent six years ago. The task is difficult because the neighborhood is so densely populated, Skop said.

Meanwhile, Sunset Park's schools are literally overflowing as the neighborhood's Chinese and Mexican immigrant communities grow and families priced out of Park Slope flock to the area.

P.S. 169 has 1,700 kids, P.S. 94 has nearly 1,600 and P.S. 131 has about 1,300, Skop said. Schools like P.S. 94 are so crowded that some students in the zone get bused to schools elsewhere that have room for them, such as P.S. 295 and P.S. 124 in the South Slope and P.S. 133 on the border of Gowanus and Park Slope.

Community Board 7 is also holding a meeting later this month to discuss whether to build schools on Third Avenue.

The busy street currently has no public schools on it within Community Board 7's boundaries — which span from Green-Wood Cemetery to 65th Street on Eighth Avenue — but there are a couple of parks and at least one day care, said CB7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer.

"This is a discussion we need to start to have, to see if Third Avenue would be viable and appropriate for the siting of schools,” Laufer said.

“The west side of Third Avenue is our industrial area, which we are very protective of and don’t want to see housing intrude into," he added. "So what would a school there mean for development along the waterfront?”

The Community Board 7 site selection committee meets at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 at the Community Board 7 office at 4201 Fourth Ave. The District 15 Community Education Council meets at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 at P.S. 172, 824 Fourth Ave.