Following a rash of media stories Tuesday after an exclusive in South Brooklyn Post – and some action by City Councilman Brad Lander, state Sen. Daniel Squadron and others – regarding the NYC Department of Education’s proposal to move a charter middle school into Carroll Gardens’ PS 32 Elementary School, the DOE announced Tuesday night that it is reconsidering the move.
“We are considering all our options,” said Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, spokesman for the DOE. An announcement on where the two-year-old middle school will locate, whether at 32 or elsewhere, should be made in coming days, he told South Brooklyn Post on Wednesday.
I asked if the media coverage and immediate public outrage played into the DOE’s reassessment.
“The feedback from community members and elected officials clarified how folks stood on the merits of the proposal as opposed to revealing something we didn’t know,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said.
The announcement that DOE would look at other options for Brooklyn Prospect Charter School was met with cheers and applause from a packed room of about 150 people at an “emergency” PTA meeting Tuesday night at PS 32, on Hoyt between Union and President streets.
Parents, teachers and the school principal at the meeting talked about the dire effect the additional kids could have on the little school’s special programs for autistic kids, as well as its dedicated spaces for art, music and science.
Many are on high alert about the impact to the library, which has become the “heart” of the elementary school. Currently, classes from preschool to fifth grade visit the library weekly, and kids constantly filter in and out of the cozy space. If the middle school comes in, the elementary kids would visit the library once every three weeks, said librarian Adam Marcus.
“This is a very serious matter,” Marcus said. “The DOE is putting a charter school above your children. The charter school is getting a brand new building from the ground up. They cannot come in here and do this to us.”
Some good news, and the bad
A new middle school/high school/neighborhood school for South Brooklyn
Amid the concern for PS 32, one fact is getting lost: A new neighborhood middle school is heading to South Brooklyn, an area direly in need of quality middle school seats. The school, Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, was started two years ago by a couple of local parents who wanted to create a place for kids from Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Red Hook and the surrounding area. By 2016, it will enroll grades 6 to 12.
While the correct place for Brooklyn Prospect is not PS 32, the school does offer good news to local parents.
The admissions process for competitive city middle schools is an outrageous stress for local families and children, who often don’t get their first, second or even third choice of middle schools. The Brooklyn Prospect Charter School currently enrolls a couple dozen sixth and seventh graders who graduated from PS 29 and PS 58; eventually, it will house 100 kids per grade from Grade 6 to 12. Entrance to the school is via lottery, and District 15 students get priority. District 15 students with free and reduced lunches get top priority.
The question now is where Brooklyn Prospect will locate while its permanent, new building is constructed at Douglass and Third Avenue.
The school was chartered by State University of New York in 2009. It’s using privately raised money to construct its new schoolhouse, Zarin-Rosenfeld said. But it is a public charter, so the DOE has control over where it will locate, and the school will receive public money. In the 2011/2012 school year, Brooklyn Prospect will feature 300 sixth, seventh and eighth graders. An additional grade will be added each year.
One right doesn’t fix a couple wrongs
At the PTA meeting Tuesday night, parents and teachers expressed fear and anger about Brooklyn Prospect heading to PS 32. PS 32 has made great strides in recent years, earning A’s three years in a row on its city report card. The school services a needy population: 80 percent of students receive free and reduced lunches, and 40 percent are special needs kids.
In addition to the 280 elementary students currently at PS 32, it also enrolls 200 middle schoolers in the New Horizons program. If Brooklyn Prospect were to come in, the 500 total middle schoolers in the two programs would greatly outnumber the preschool and K-5 kids at the school.
In press accounts Tuesday, CBS New York and The New York Daily News among others concentrated on the bad effect the addition of a middle school would have on the special program for high-performing autistic kids, called Autism Spectrum Disorder NEST, at PS 32. Moving Brooklyn Prospect Charter into the red trailers behind the school, where ASD NEST takes place, as the DOE proposed, would effectively shut down the NEST program, as its success is related to the space and resources afforded by the trailers. Some 40 kids from all over Brooklyn attend the NEST program.
“Most schools struggle to educate autistic kids,” said PS 32 United Federation of Teachers team leader Becky Alford. “We’re actually quite good at it.”
Also poorly affected would be the 34 preschoolers housed in two large rooms in the red trailers (full disclosure: my daughter attends pre-K at PS 32), who would have to move into the main building. Though PS 32 would still operate a pre-K program, parents would have to contend with sending their 4–year-olds to school with 500 middle schoolers. South Brooklyn is desperate for public pre-K seats, with very limited space at PS 29, 58, 38 and 261, so this would send ripple effects through the community.
Many at the PTA meeting expressed concern about the overall effect, on all the kids.
Principal Deborah Ann Florio said if the middle school comes in, PS 32 will lose its arts studio room, its music room—where every student learns an instrument—and its science room.
Larissa Baliff, a member of the PTA and parent of a child in the ASD NEST program, urged parents to call, write, email and petition the DOE to come up with a better plan.
“This isn’t about people being against charter schools,” said PS 32 social worker Neal Weintraub. “This is a call for mass action. We want them to say to us, ‘Don’t worry, we will never ever both you again.’”
More on education:
DOE announces moving middle school into PS 32
The Kindergarten Crunch looks at shrinking space for preschoolers and kindergartners in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill.
New French Program to Launch looks at second french-immersion in Carroll Gardens/Gowanus area. PS 133 to move to newly renovated elementary school building at Fourth Avenue and Baltic in September 2012.