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Harlem Zoning Meetings An Opportunity for Leaders to 'Shut Up and Listen'

By Emily Frost | December 18, 2016 12:51pm
 The DOE tabled the plan to rezone the northern part of District 3. CEC members want input from residents on how to formulate a new plan.
The DOE tabled the plan to rezone the northern part of District 3. CEC members want input from residents on how to formulate a new plan.
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HARLEM — Low enrollment at some Harlem schools amid a boom in charter schools, as well as where school zoning lines should be drawn, will be tackled at a series of meetings starting in January and a summit in March, education leaders said.

Earlier this week, the Department of Education tabled a plan to merge two Harlem schools, P.S. 241 and P.S. 76, and a related schools rezoning after parents fought the merger and demanded more time to discuss any zoning changes.

Community Education Council 3 members applauded the move at a meeting this week. 

Pausing the plans is an "opportunity to shut up and listen," said CEC member Dan Katz. 

"People in this part of the district say to us 'nobody is listening to me. Nobody has bothered to come and listen at all, maybe ever.' There’s a significant significant need for us to tap the knowledge that many of us don’t have," he said. 

As they did with the lengthy rezoning process in the southern part of District 3, the CEC and the DOE need to listen to what parents in this part of the district want as well, CEC members said.

"I am looking forward to this opportunity to dig deeper for solutions in this part of the district," said Kim Watkins, chair of the CEC's zoning committee. 

The zoning committee will hold public meetings starting in mid-January regarding a rezoning in the northern part of District 3. 

The meetings will lead up to a summit in March for parents and educators to discuss big picture issues around zoning and schools in Harlem, she said. 

Theresa Hammonds, a Harlem parent and a former CEC member, urged her neighbors to "stay engaged," in drafting the new vision for local schools. 

"This kind of thing happened because frankly we’ve been asleep at the wheel and we cannot be any longer," she said of the tabled rezoning plans. 

District 3's Harlem schools — P.S. 180, P.S. 76, P.S. 241, P.S. 242, P.S. 149, P.S. 185 and P.S. 208 — have made academic gains in the past five years, said Superintendent Ilene Altschul at the meeting. But unfortunately that hasn't positively impacted enrollment, she said. 

"The [low] enrollment has hurt the students, because with more students comes more money," said Altschul. 

"There needs to be a big push to increase enrollment," she said. 

One of the topics the summit and the zoning committee will tackle is how to better market local schools that have improved and have great offerings, CEC members said. 

They'll also consider how the prevalence and popularity of surrounding charter schools impacts the district, they said.

Check the CEC's website for updates on zoning committee meetings.