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Fort Greene's P.S. 20 Fears Arts & Letters Will Take Over its Building

By Amy Zimmer | October 16, 2017 1:33pm | Updated on October 17, 2017 3:49pm
 Hundreds formed a
Hundreds formed a "human chain" around P.S. 20/Art& Letters in 2015 to protest state tests.
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Julie Hassett Sutton

BROOKLYN — A letter from the PTA at P.S. 20 is sparking fears among parents that it could be kicked out of its own building by the school it shares space with, the Academy of Arts & Letters — though officials from the Department of Education deny any such plan is being considered.

P.S. 20 is a neighborhood elementary school with a popular French dual language program that is slowly attracting more students as the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods gentrify.

The school also shares its building with the highly sought-after progressive kindergarten-through-eighth grade school with lottery-based admissions that attract students from across District 13, including from Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Prospect Heights and part of Park Slope. Arts & Letters last year implemented a diversity-based admissions policy, giving priority to low-income students for a certain portion of its incoming students to prevent its demographics from skewing too affluent or too white.

Both schools are operating at about 135 percent over-capacity, according to Department of Education figures, and Arts & Letters is looking for a new home.

Because of the "unsustainable" situation of the two growing schools, the P.S. 20 PTA letter warned parents that the DOE was considering ousting its community from the building on the border of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill at 225 Adelphi St., which was constructed in 1951 to house P.S. 20. 

The letter said that P.S. 20 might have to cede its space to Arts & Letters because the DOE has been unable to find it a new space.

“To address this challenge, the Department of Education has sought to relocate Arts & Letters to other locations which have thus far not been accepted,” the letter stated. “In response to this, the DOE is considering other options and has not ruled out relocating P.S. 20 from 225 Adelphi Street — where it has been standing for 66 years as the school’s home — to another building, thereby allowing Arts & Letters to fully occupy the building.”

Moving the school “is an option that should not be explored or entertained," the letter continued.

DOE spokesman Michael Aciman, however, said, "We do not have any plans to re-locate P.S. 20."

P.S. 20 had long suffered from dwindling enrollment, but its numbers have been inching upward thanks to the French program and a changing real estate landscape that draws more affluent families from the brownstones amid the school zone’s public housing developments, as well the large-scale Clinton Hill co-ops, which have been getting pricier.

The diverse school has an active parent body that kick-started an urban agricultural program and helped the school win $36,500 through participatory budgeting for its "Learning Wall" project to install pin-able, writable walls in classrooms to foster more active learning and discussion among students and teachers.

Five years ago, the school had 320 students and now has 453 students in a space for 336 kids, DOE figures show.

P.S. 20 has more students with high needs than its neighbor, with 12 percent of its student body homeless, compared to about 2 percent at Arts & Letters, according to a map created by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness.

READ MORE: 10 Percent of All NYC Students Are Homeless During School Year, Study Says

Roughly 62 percent of its students qualified for free or reduced lunch compared to 25 percent at Arts & Letters, according to DOE stats.

Arts & Letters moved into the building in 2006 as a middle school and then expanded into elementary school levels in 2011, quickly becoming coveted across the district for its strong arts-based, high performing program, with its parents leading the charge on speaking out on topics like the controversial state tests and a focus on student presentations to foster creative thinking.

Arts & Letters, which phased in all of its grades by 2015, currently has 520 students in a space meant for only 383 kids.

Ayanna Behin, an Arts & Letters parent, who is also the president of District 13’s Community Education Council, was concerned that the “rumor” floating around P.S. 20 was causing undue tension when the two should be working together to get "good things" for their joint building.

“They are mobilizing for a giant fight," she said. "There has never been a conversation about taking over that building in the CEC or in Arts & Letters."

The process to move Arts & Letters was going slowly to ensure transparency, she said, noting that if it left too soon, a charter school would likely move into P.S. 20’s building since the elementary school would still have 1.5 floors empty.

“We want to bring equity and excellence to every school, and they’re a growing school," Behin added. "Why would we want to pit two good schools against each other? There’s no upside.”

District 13 will hold a strategic space committee meeting to discuss district-wide space issues, including the P.S. 20/Art & Letters situation on Monday, Oct. 23, 6 p.m. at P.S. 56, 170 Gates Ave.

[CORRECTION: This article originally said P.S. 20 had a diversity-based admissions policy but it was the Arts & Letters school that implemented the policy.]