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UWS Education Leaders Blast DOE Plan to Change School Zones

By Emily Frost | October 29, 2015 3:27pm
 The council has yet to come to an agreement on what the final zoning plan should entail. 
UWS School Rezoning Plan
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UPPER WEST SIDE — While local education leaders can't come to a consensus on a new plan to change the school zone in the southern portion of the neighborhood, they all agree that they can't abide by the proposal put forth by the Department of Education.

The DOE's plan is meant to alleviate overcrowding at P.S. 199 by sending children previously zoned to attend that school to nearby P.S. 452 and P.S. 191, as well as creating a zone for the new K-5 P.S. 342 school.

Community Education Council 3, which is made up of parents from schools around the district and has the final vote on any plan, decided Wednesday night to send the DOE back to the drawing board and agreed they needed more time to deliberate. 

But the department is urging the council to make its decision by Nov. 19, the previously agreed-upon deadline, so that the district is not in the same predicament this fall regarding overcrowding at P.S. 199. In the past few years, there have been wait-lists of more than 100 children at the coveted school.

"I really do want to urge you that we do need a decision," Superintendent Ilene Altschul told CEC 3 members at a meeting to discuss the plan Wednesday. 

Requesting "time for time’s sake is not enough," she said.

Capping Enrollment at P.S. 199 Without a New Zoning Plan

The CEC wants to force the DOE to agree to cap P.S. 199's enrollment in five kindergarten classes and not squeeze in an extra kindergarten class to accommodate the wait-list, as it has in the past. The building is already over capacity, they said. 

But without changing the zoning lines substantially, such a move would only increase the wait-list, Altschul said.

"We need to have an alternate zoning plan in place for those [wait-listed] families. We can’t just say: 'We're capping and we’ll figure it out'," she insisted. 

Without a new zoning plan, the DOE could be forced to add another kindergarten class again, she said.

The Zoning Implications of P.S. 191's Persistently Dangerous School Designation

Though CEC 3 members want to solve the overcrowding "crisis" at P.S. 199, some believe that forcing families to go to P.S. 191 is not the answer.

In light of P.S. 191's designation as a "persistently dangerous" school this summer by the state Education Department, it doesn't make sense to enlarge the school and send kids to a place they're not obliged to attend due to the designation, said CEC 3 President Joe Fiordaliso.

Under state regulations, the designation means parents have the right to request a transfer to another school.

"We need to do something that buys us a year until this designation is lifted," Fiordaliso said. 

Others argued that P.S. 191 needs time to improve under the new leadership of Principal Lauren Keville, so that families are choosing the school not being forced to go there. 

According to the DOE's 2013-14 Quality Review,"26 percent of the faculty would recommend the school to others," said CEC member Nan Mead. "That’s a disturbing statistic."

CEC 3 member Lucas Liu defended P.S. 199 parents' wariness about getting rezoned to P.S. 191.

"A lot of people are saying that the parents at 199 are racist," he said, as P.S 199 is predominantly white, while P.S. 191 is mostly black and Latino. "Just because somebody wants the best opportunity for their kid does not make them a racist."

Support and Dissent for a 'Superzone'

Parents and CEC members have said a "superzone" — one zone for P.S. 199, 191 and 342 — would help desegregate the schools.

There's also a stark difference in their state test scores, with P.S. 199 outperforming many other district schools. However, CEC members argued that tests shouldn't be the only rubric used to evaluate the two schools. 

"For us to look at this issue and to pretend that segregation is not the major cause of overcrowding at P.S. 199 and underenrollment at 191 is a fantasty," said CEC 3 member Noah Gotbaum.

A superzone would integrate the schools, and the CEC should seize that opportunity, he said. 

"[P.S.] 191 deserves to be a Blue Ribbon school, too. If we’re going to isolate all of the underperforming kids in one school, how are we going to get there?" asked CEC member Theresa Hammonds.

Parents attending the meeting agreed that desegregation has been shown to raise achievement levels and enhance the educational experience of all students.

But others disagreed.

"Throwing two populations together and saying 'good luck' is not a workable plan," Mead said.

Fiordaliso cited other examples in the city in which putting two schools in the same zone did not change the fact that one school remained sought-after while the other became an overflow school. 

"[School] reputations were cemented by a superzone," he said.

Overcrowding at the O'Shea Complex

The DOE's plan would shift students zoned for P.S. 199 to the P.S. 452 zone, but this proposal raised dissent among many members of the education council.

Some worried it would overcrowd and hurt the O'Shea Complex on West 77th Street, which houses P.S. 452, the K-8 Anderson School and the Computer School, a middle school. The schools share common spaces like a gym, cafeteria and outdoor yard. 

Adding more students to the P.S. 452 zone would mean the school could expand by adding a third kindergarten class, something it desires, said Altschul. This expansion has always been the plan for 452, she said. 

Altschul said expanding the zone at 452 would move about 15 to 20 families from the P.S. 199 zone. But given the fact that the wait-list for P.S. 199 is typically about 100 students, some members questioned whether such a move was even worth it.

The zoning change would put a minor dent in the wait-list, but certainly doesn't solve the P.S. 199 overcrowding problem, they said.  

Alternative Ideas

The CEC's zoning committee has taken a lot of feedback from the public and many ideas have emerged, said CEC member Kim Watkins, who heads the committee.

Other ideas under discussion include:

► Putting all K-2 students in one school and all students in the third through fifth grades in another, thereby integrating the communities. 

► Phasing out the middle school at P.S. 191

► Adding a gifted and talented program at 191

► Splitting the student population from NYCHA's Amsterdam Houses among P.S. 199, 191 and 342.

► Moving P.S. 191 to the new Riverside Center building, which is currently set to house a brand new school.

► Using "controlled choice" levers like income and race to decide which school students attend.

The next zoning meeting, which will include DOE representatives and CEC 3 members, is Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at 154 W. 93 St.

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