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Brooklyn Parents Fear P.S. 8 Rezoning is Band-Aid Fix to Overcrowding

By Nikhita Venugopal | September 22, 2015 3:04pm
 The proposed new zone lines for P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
The proposed new zone lines for P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
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DOE

BROOKLYN — A plan to relieve overcrowding at P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights by sending new students to P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill would only serve as a Band-Aid solution as more families are drawn to the neighborhoods, many parents said Monday.

"Our overcrowding problem is large, fast-growing and it needs to be addressed now," said Ansley Samson, co-chair of the P.S. 8 PTA's community affairs committee. The school's waitlist - 50 students deep this year - indicates a "complete failure of planning" and only divides the community, Samson said. 

Another year of waitlisting would be "unacceptable" and the proposed rezoning may not even be enough to address the influx of families moving into new developments, said Diane Rattien, who has two granddaughters in pre-K zoned for P.S. 8.

 Existing zones for both P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
Existing zones for both P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
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DOE

"I do want this plan to come to fruition in September," Rattien said. "I’m afraid that we possibly need more than just that.”

The Monday meeting in Brooklyn Heights was the second town-hall discussion to address the rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307, where current and prospective parents discussed the proposal with officials from the Department of Education's Office of District Planning and District 13's Community Education Council.

Based on 2014 records, P.S. 307 is 93 percent minority whereas P.S. 8 is predominantly white, according to an earlier DOE's presentation, which also suggested that rezoning would integrate the schools.

The draft rezoning plan, first presented Sept. 1, would cut down the existing P.S. 8 zone and increase P.S. 307's zone size to include DUMBO and Vinegar Hill. Under the DOE's plan, Brooklyn Heights and Concord Village would remain within the P.S. 8 zone.

But some DUMBO parents who attended Monday's meeting said many questions remain unanswered regarding the process and proposal. Many also said the speedy timeline did not leave enough time for discussion and feedback — a sentiment also voiced by the P.S. 307 community at a town-hall meeting last week.

Those questions included whether P.S. 8 siblings would be grandfathered into the school, what resources would be made available to both schools and why the community had not been involved more.

Community members at last week's town hall meeting pushed back against the proposal. Many said it neglected the needs of P.S. 307 and did not address issues of race and class that existed within the communities

Some also questioned why other schools in the districts, some of which still have empty seats - such as P.S. 287, P.S. 46 and P.S. 67 - had not been included in the discussion. 

For younger brothers and sisters of current P.S. 8 students, District 13's CEC will decide whether or not to include a clause in the final proposal that ensures siblings being grandfathered into the school. However, that clause would slow down the effectiveness of the overcrowding proposal, DOE officials said. 

But DUMBO parents remained skeptical of the plan and P.S. 307, which would be their neighborhood school under the new zones. 

"The P.S. 307 community is starving and needs great education," said local mom Lisa McKeon, who asked if any additional professional development and funding would be provided to the schools. 

“How does sending all of DUMBO and Vinegar Hill’s children to the school solve P.S. 307’s problems?” said one DUMBO dad, calling it a "severely underperforming school." 

But DOE officials and P.S. 307 parents at the meeting disagreed. 

"We are not seeing problems at P.S. 307," a representative from the DOE said.

P.S. 307 PTA co-presidents Benjamin Greene and Faraji Hannah-Jones urged parents to visit the school and set aside preconceived notions they may have about P.S. 307 based on the neighborhood or majority black community with many students from nearby Farragut Houses. 

"Most of this is about fear of the unknown," Greene said. "We need to start talking to one another and stop looking down on one another."

P.S. 307 is known for its ASD Nest and Horizons program for special needs students, Mandarin classes and music instruction. It also has partnerships with HORIZONS at Brooklyn Friends and after-school programs for students through Kids Orbit and the YMCA.

"Have you been to the school?" Hannah-Jones asked parents in the room, many of whom responded with silence. "P.S. 307 is not an underperforming school."

"I even challenge you to walk across the street [to Farragut Houses] and talk to some of those grandmothers, aunties and uncles, sisters and bothers who have been to the school since its beginning," he said.

"They've been here before you have," Hannah-Jones continued. "And they have as much equity in the neighborhood as you do."

The DOE is expected to present a final draft of the proposal on Sept. 30 at P.S. 307. If the new zoning is to take effect in the 2016-17 school year, the proposal must be approved by November.

District 13's CEC will continue to accept feedback on the draft proposal on its website.