The Department of Education announced last week that it would close J.H.S. 44 William J. O'Shea, a troubled middle school that shares a West 77th Street building with the Computer School. Though the news was hardly surprising-J.H.S. 44 received a D on its recent progress report-some thought the announcement should have been revealed weeks, or even months ago, when the district was undergoing a lengthy and contentious rezoning process to address crowding at P.S. 199. The crowding plan endorsed last month by the District 3 Community Education Council entailed moving The Anderson School, a K-8 gifted program currently at P.S. 9, into J.H.S. 44's building to make room for The Center School, which is currently at P.S. 199. The debate drew parents, elected officials and even a reported police presence to parent council meetings. Borough President Scott Stringer released a statement on Dec. 4 criticizing the department for not announcing the J.H.S. 44 closure during the rezoning process. "I had an expectation that whatever the result [of the rezoning] would be, the DOE would be up front, honest, transparent and truthful, even if at the end of the day not everyone was satisfied," Stringer said in an interview. "It just makes it more difficult to take them at their word on other issues." The department maintains that the middle school's closure won't alter the rezoning process; over the next few years, a new middle school will be phased in as J.H.S. 44 is phased out, leaving the same space configuration. Though the department's general counsel is reviewing an appeal to the rezoning plan, according to education officials, the school moves have been approved and will move forward. Asked why J.H.S. 44's closure wasn't announced during the rezoning process, Melody Meyer, a spokesperson for the department, explained that closing a school is "an incredibly difficult decision." "We are very careful that the people who hear about it first hear about it as tactfully and sensitively as they can, and then we communicate to a broader audience," Meyer said. But Jennifer Freeman, secretary of the District 3 parent council and chair of the space committee, thought it would have been appropriate to share the information. "I think that the Department of Education did engage with the community in the overcrowding issue in a positive way, but this is an indication that there maybe needs to be more guidelines so that they're not just picking and choosing when they work with the community," Freeman said. Still, she agreed that J.H.S. 44's closure doesn't seem to have an effect on the proposed rezoning since another middle school is planned for the space. "In fact, it could help if the new school is fully enrolled, where the old school was not fully enrolled, and there could be more students filling the seats at this school," she said. The District Leadership Team will have a say in what type of new school takes shape. "We need a whole mix of schools," said Bijou Miller, co-president of the District 3 Presidents' Council and a member of the team. "I personally am very fearful of a charter school being put in there and I don't think that's the way to go. There's a great demand for middle school seats in District 3." Asked about the possibility of a charter school, Meyer, the department spokesperson, said, "We just don't know yet what kind of school will open up there?anything could be on the table." The department is slated to announce new schools early in the year. Meanwhile, the District Leadership Team is will discuss the new middle school at a Dec. 18 meeting scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at 154 W. 93rd St. For more information, email CEC3@schools.nyc.gov or call 212-678-2782.
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