Librarian Adam Marcus at PS 32 at Hoyt and President. DOE announcement Monday will increase school population by 60 percent.
Photo by Joshua Kristal
On Monday, the N.Y.C. Department of Education announced its plan to increase by 60 percent the student population of PS 32 Elementary School at Hoyt and President streets in Carroll Gardens, by relocating a middle school — a new charter school drawing kids from this area — into the school for the 2011/2012 school year.
In making the announcement, the DOE said PS 32 is under capacity. It currently houses 480 students, including 200 students in the New Horizons Middle School program. Brooklyn Prospect Middle School, which is drawing kids from the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and surrounding area, is waiting for its new building to finish construction on Douglass Street in the Gowanus area. It would add another 300 kids to PS 32’s population. The announcement said Brooklyn Prospect would move out of PS 32 before the beginning of school in September 2012.
The DOE said in its announcement that although the addition would take the school’s capacity above 100 percent, “there is sufficient capacity in the building to accommodate all three school organizations.”
The news sent waves of panic and concern through the community of parents, teachers and administrators at PS 32, and at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School. Many are worried about the potential impact to the progress and special programs at PS 32, which has traditionally educated an underserved population. Nearly 80 percent of PS 32’s population receives free or reduced lunches, and 40 percent are special needs. PS 32 is the pioneering location of the Autism Spectrum Disorder NEST program, which integrates kids with autism into the general population with small classes and special services. The program, which pulls kids from all over, has been a great success and copied in 20 schools throughout the city.
PS 32 boasts many new, grant-funded facilities such as a gym, outdoor play-space, music and art rooms and a busy, cozy library. The efforts of teachers and administrators have turned turned the once rough-and-tumble elementary schoolhouse into what’s been called a “gem,” and the “best kept secret in Carroll Gardens.”
The school has received three “A’s” on its report card from the city, three years in a row.
“We’re furious. Our parents are furious, our staff is furious. We’ll have to make horribly hard choices,” said Becky Alford, United Federation of Teachers team leader for PS 32. “Our fantastic art studio, our music studio where every student learns to play the key board, our wonderfully successful music and art, the permanent planetarium we are building, the sensory gym for the autistic kids, our story time area, our ESL resource room, our academic intervention program, we’ll have to make horrible choices. We’ll have to deny our kids enrichment and special programs. We raised grant money to build all these things, and now, they’ll be taken away.”
Brooklyn Prospect, a school with a global business theme, was approved by State University of New York in 2009. District 15 students (including all the kids in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo) get priority in the lottery to gain entrance to the school. This year, the school features many kids from the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill neighborhoods, and is located within the Sunset Park High School at 153 35th St. The school website says it has signed a long-term lease at 270 Douglass, between Third Ave. and Nevins. The plan is to tear down the large building there and construct and all-new middle school, but construction has not begun.
Concerning is the announcement that the new middle-schoolers will be housed in the red permanent trailers located in back of PS 32. Currently, those trailers are home to two preschool classrooms, three kindergarten and three First Grade classrooms, and the NEST program.
The red trailers are well loved, as they provide an almost separate school for small children and children with special needs. Occupational therapy and other special services are provided in the trailers. (Full disclosure: My daughter is in the preschool program at PS 32, and we could not be happier with the school, the teachers or the red trailers.)
The ASD NEST program is a joint venture of DOE and NYU, and features classes of 12 to 16 kids, with two teachers. The program has been very successful, and is copied in 20 schools in the city.
If the move takes place, the pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st grade and NEST program will move to the main school building.
Amid the frenzy of emotion Monday, several parents called for a wait-and-see approach. One mom, who sits on the PTA of both schools, said she’s concerned about all of the kids, and hopes the DOE, which made this move and decision, will address the issues at hand.
“I think there are a lot of questions to be answered. I hope we can proceed with calm,” this mom said.
Some school staff were frantic.
“We’ve gotten three A’s on our report card for three years. We’re doing something right,” Alford said. “This is devastating. It’s just too many kids. It’s too much of a stress. When they determine building capacity, it is a blue book formula. They are not taking into consideration we cannot have more than 12 to 16 kids in our Autism Spectrum Disorder classes.
“A child with autism can’t learn social development, the hardest thing for them to learn, in a hallway, with middle-schoolers walking by. A 5-year-old with autism cannot sit in a room and have breakfast with 200 noisy middle-schoolers around them,” said Alford, who is also a teacher in the NEST program.
PS 32’s PTA is holding an “emergency” meeting Tuesday night to discuss the move, while the DOE is holding a public meeting in early April. A final vote from the Panel of Education Policy will be held on April 28.
The educational panel that makes the final decision is appointed by the mayor and borough presidents, and is often considered a “rubber stamp,” for such school moves, Alford said.
Alford said the school teachers are worried the additional students will be permanent.
“When they move a charter school in, they say it’s one year, but the charter school is expanding every year. They claim they’ll have a building built by next year, but even if they do move, it’s very rare a school would get back that space. They’ll move someone else in here.”
More South Brooklyn Post education stories:
The Kindergarten Crunch explores ever-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.