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Education Leaders Consider 'Super Zone' to Allow for Greater School Choice

By Emily Frost | June 1, 2015 3:09pm
 A rendering of the new Riverside Center school.
A rendering of the new Riverside Center school.
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Dattner Architects

UPPER WEST SIDE — Local education leaders are looking to combat school overcrowding and increase classroom diversity by creating a "super zone" — in which students from one part of the district would have a choice of three schools to attend instead of one.

Elementary school students in District 3 are assigned to a school based on where he or she lives, a geographic designation known as their school zone. Each zone typically has only one corresponding school.

Community Education Council 3 leaders, who have ultimate control over zoning lines, are considering shaking up that structure in the southern section of the district, which is experiencing overcrowding and what some have deemed racial segregation.

Instead of the predicament facing students the past two years — a long waitlist at P.S. 199 on West 70th Street and under-enrollment at P.S. 191 on West 61st Street — both schools would be put into one larger school zone rather than two separate zones under the proposal.

Students living near the two neighboring schools would be allowed to attend both, and if demand still remained overwhelming at P.S. 199, a lottery would go into effect, leaders explained. 

A third school — the new Riverside Center school on West 61st Street — would also be included in the "super zone" when it opens in 2018, they said.

CEC 3's zoning committee is in the early stages of taking public feedback and thinking through options for the plan, but the super zone idea is already a front-runner. 

Having only one zone would then leave it to parents — or a lottery, if neccesary — to determine which of the three schools their child attends.

The goal of the super zone, or any new zoning plan, is to ensure that the Riverside Center school is drawing students from a wide variety of backgrounds, and not just the luxury condos going up alongside the new school, leaders said. 

Under the proposed plan, "the full community is together...it promises the diversity of the brand-new [Riverside Center] buildings and the old buildings," explained CEC member Barbara Denham, who heads the council's zoning committee. 

The planning process for creating a new zone incorporating the Riverside Center school coincides with demand from parents to solve the overcrowding problem at nearby P.S. 199 by changing its zoning lines. 

If P.S. 199's zoning was altered — either through creating the super zone or by shrinking P.S. 199's zone in size — there wouldn't be waitlists of nearly 100 students like this year and last, parents said. 

At this point in the rezoning planning process, "everything is on the table," Denham said. The CEC has until November 2015 to vote on any changes, DOE officials said. 

However, the mere mention of "rezoning" and the perceived threat of substantial changes to zoning lines sent rumors flying through NYCHA's Amsterdam Houses, said resident Lilieth Banks. 

Banks, who attended a recent zoning committee meeting, said she and others were under the impression that a change to local school zones would mean her fourth-grader would no longer go to the neighboring P.S. 191 and would be bussed somewhere else in the district instead.

"You will not be bussed; you will not be removed from the school. Don’t spread the rumor," said DOE community liaison D.J. Sheppard at the meeting. 

Parents from Amsterdam Houses reiterated how strongly they felt about their children attending P.S. 191, which has been the local public school for Amsterdam Houses residents for decades, they said. 

Other Amsterdam Houses residents, like Banks, said they liked the idea of being able to choose between P.S. 191 and the new Riverside Center school. 

"When people tour this brand-new building, they’re going to be in awe," Denham said. "If we give people a choice, they’re going to want to go to the new building."

Check CEC 3's website for updates on the date and time of upcoming meetings.