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'We Deserve Better': Parents Criticize DOE Plan to Co-Locate Harlem Schools

By Dartunorro Clark | February 16, 2017 4:10pm
 Parents speak to DOE reps at PS 36 on a plan to co-late tow West Harlem schools.
Parents speak to DOE reps at PS 36 on a plan to co-late tow West Harlem schools.
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Dartunorro Clark/DNAinfo

HARLEM — A plan to temporarily house students from the over-capacity Teachers College Community School inside nearby P.S. 36 was blasted by critics at a tense meeting Wednesday — as parents accused the city of "playing games" with both schools.

The Department of Education has come under fire for its last-ditch plan to house overflow students from the top-performing Teachers College Community School, whose space at 168 Morningside Ave. hasn't been able to keep pace with demand, inside nearby P.S. 36's building at 123 Morningside Drive.

At present, TCCS’ building has a capacity of 131 but has an enrollment of 273, which puts it at 208 percent over-capacity, according to the DOE, which plans to place students from TCCS into a satellite location inside P.S. 36's building, which city officials claim is under capacity.

The plan would start with pre-K through first-grade students in the 2017 to 2018 school year and then add second-grade students in the 2018 and 2019 school year.

But parents at P.S. 36 say that the DOE's calculations are wrong and that the school is struggling to get the resources it needs, which they fear would only get worse with another school to share resources with. In addition, they say that the DOE is using them to solve problems for other students instead of addressing their students' problems.

“I’m sick and tired of DOE playing these games with poor, black, brown and working families. We deserve better," said Sanayi Beckles-Canton, the president of District 5 Community Education Council which both schools belong to.

“Bring your kids to our community and let them go to our schools and struggle the way we do,” she said.

Officials said the department will also search for a permanent building for TCCS as it adds a middle school.

Parents said P.S. 36 has faced financial issues and lacked resources for a number of years which have caused it to struggle. By co-locating TCCS it may continue those trends and disrupt the education of its students.

“We are being undersold,” a P.S. 36 parent told DOE representatives. “We’re using milk crates for bookshelves. That’s inhumane for our kids.”  

At TCCS, parents worried about siblings being separated between schools, the potential strain on staff, the pressure placed on administrators planning a curriculum for the new middle school being added next year and concern that a permanent fix may not be found.

TCCS opened in 2010 as a partnership between the DOE and Teachers College with a plan to grow up to eighth grade. Each year since, it has added a grade, starting with kindergarten and then pre-K.

It now serves up to fifth grade and is slated to add a sixth-grade class.

The DOE argued that TCCS’ student body has outgrown its physical building, while P.S. 36 has room for 671 students but only 427 enrolled.

Elizabeth Rose, the deputy chancellor of operations who was joined by several officials from the department’s space planning office, tried to quell parents’ concerns about the plan, noting the department is committed to finding a permanent home for TCCS.

“There was great demand,” Rose said of TCCS. “So the school grew at a fast per grade rate.”

She said since the search for new space started in the fall, two spaces were identified, but both have fallen through.

“Clearly we have failed on two attempts to place your middle school,” Rose added. “But we need an interim.”

However, Laurie Kindred, co-president of the parents’ association at TCCS, noted that there is no “binding” language in the proposal — called an Educational Impact Statement — that would require the DOE to stick to its promises of looking for a new permanent space.

The plan also left parents from both schools feeling as if it were a last-ditch effort by the department to correct an issue that it has had years to solve.

“We’ve been told since day one, 500 students are coming to this school, so that feels disingenuous," a TCCS parent said, referring to the school's growth plan.

“It’s an excuse for where we are.”

Rose and other officials in attendance assured parents the department has made finding a permanent space a priority, calling it a “crisis situation." 

“As demand for TCCS grows among families, we’re committed to providing its students and staff with the space and resources they need to continue thriving," a DOE spokesman said in a statement.

"This temporary re-siting will help ensure that the school can continue to grow enrollment and expand the grades it serves, as we work diligently to find a permanent home that meets the needs of the entire TCCS community.”

The plan is expected to be voted on at the end of the month.