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New Zoning Proposal Seeks to Split Amsterdam Houses Among 3 Schools

By Emily Frost | February 5, 2016 11:59am
 CEC members are proposing that the Amsterdam Houses' student population get distributed between P.S. 342 (top), P.S. 199 (right) and P.S. 191 (left).
CEC members are proposing that the Amsterdam Houses' student population get distributed between P.S. 342 (top), P.S. 199 (right) and P.S. 191 (left).
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Dattner Architects; DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — Redistributing low-income students from a local public housing complex among three schools — rather than concentrating them all at one — would alleviate issues at the southern end of the school district, education leaders said. 

Currently, students living in the Amsterdam Houses — a NYCHA development that sits between West 61st and 65th streets on Amsterdam Avenue — are zoned for P.S. 191 at 210 W. 61st St.

But parents and education leaders have said this unfairly burdens the K-8 school because students from the Amsterdam Houses tend to have greater needs than others because of their socioeconomic backgrounds, but the school hasn't had the resources to meet them.

"I think the tragedy of [P.S.] 191 has been they were completely bereft of any student services... it’s criminal," said Community Education Council 3 member Nan Mead at a meeting Wednesday. "You have to be able to support the population."

Under a new plan leaders are floating as a possible solution, the Amsterdam Houses' zoning lines would be redrawn so that a third of its students would continue to go to P.S. 191, a third would go to the funding-rich and higher-achieving P.S. 199, and the final third would attend the brand new P.S. 342 when it opens in 2018. 

This redistribution would also serve to increase the racial and economic diversity at nearby P.S. 199, where the vast majority of students are white or Asian and do not receive free lunch, CEC members said. 

The DOE has held a series of "stakeholder meetings" in December and January at P.S. 191 and P.S. 199 with each school's PTA and principal, as well as elected officials and CEC members.

The meetings were intended to figure out what each school would want from a rezoning of that part of the district, after the DOE tabled an original rezoning plan this fall. 

At one of its meetings, "[P.S.] 191 had specifically asked that Amsterdam Houses be not exclusively zoned to their school," said CEC member Noah Gotbaum, who attended the meetings. 

"If you look at all the stats on performance, schools that have up to 25 percent high needs do phenomenally better than schools that have 75 percent [high needs]," noted board member Dan Katz.

"It’s got to be a third, a third and a third," he said in support of the proposal. 

The school's principal, Lauren Keville, said she had not officially weighed in on the idea, however.

"This is not an idea that I've recommended or endorsed. While members of the P.S. 191 community may have views as to how they want the new zone lines to be drawn, my focus as principal is on the school's academics and serving our students," she said in an email.

Parents of prospective students who would have been rezoned from P.S. 199 to P.S. 191 raised concerns about 191's lower test scores during the zoning process that played out this past fall. Though it's a major sticking point, P.S. 191 can't magically boost those scores overnight, CEC members have said. 

However, changing the P.S. 191 population influences test scores, Gotbaum said. 

"Test scores are a function of economic status. When the major low-income projects are all zoned to one school, you’re going to get associated low test scores," he explained. "If those projects are then redistributed, your test scores are going to change." 

At P.S. 199's stakeholder meetings, school leadership was open to the idea of having the Amsterdam Houses buildings rezoned to their school, so long as other buildings were removed, Mead said. 

"It’s not that they don’t want [students from the Amsterdam Houses] part of their community; it’s that they don’t have the space," DOE Superintendent Ilene Altschul said. 

P.S. 199 parents and leaders pushed for a rezoning that would shrink their zone because they said the school is dangerously over capacity. 

In order to bring in students from the Amsterdam Houses, students from other buildings would have to be removed from the P.S. 199 zone, school leaders said, according to the CEC.

P.S. 199's PTA would not officially comment on this plan.

"As a PTA we do not have a position on specific re-zoning scenarios," the PTA's co-presidents said in an email.  

CEC 3 has until November 2016 to hammer out and vote on a new zoning plan if it's to be put in action for the 2017-18 school year. 

P.S. 191 is not alone in serving a higher proportion of public housing students than neighboring schools. 

The Independent Budget Office recently released a report finding that students living in public housing are disproportionately distributed among New York City schools.

At 123 schools — or 9 percent of city schools — more than 35 percent of the school population lives in public housing.  

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