In the consistently crowded neighborhoods of the Upper East Side, every school seat is precious and every potential school space is a gold mine. But parents and the Community Education Council are wary of clashing with the Department of Education over how to allocate the valued space about to open up at P.S. 158.
The school currently houses its own elementary school, the Bayard Taylor School, as well as the first classes of P.S. 267, called East Side Elementary. The new school, incubated in P.S. 158's building on York Avenue between East 77th and 78th streets, will be moving to its permanent location on East 63rd Street for the 2012-2013 school year. That leaves a gaping hole in the classrooms at P.S. 158, and parents are hoping for a new middle school, while the DOE won't confirm what they will put in the building.
Last week, Community Board 8 voted to approve a resolution urging the DOE to put a middle school-and only a middle school-in the space.
"We've had three years of meetings on zoning and at this point it's been discussed over and over," said Judy Schneider, co-chair of the education committee. She cited a meeting that was held recently with over 150 local parents in attendance.
"Everyone unanimously agreed it should be a middle school," she said. "When you have two elementary schools in that building, you have kids eating lunch at 10 a.m. because the cafeteria can't accommodate them. The facilities can't accommodate two elementary schools."
The CEC for District 2, which covers the Upper East Side as well as parts of Lower Manhattan, reached the same conclusion and also passed a resolution to ask that P.S. 158's upper floors become a middle school.
"The reason the parents are so much in favor of a middle school in that place is because the populations are complementary rather than consistent with each other," said Simon Miller, a CEC member and P.S. 158 parent, citing the different start and end times for elementary and middle school students. "A lot of middle school kids go out to eat for lunch and so the cafeteria isn't used as much. Middle school kids are older, so getting up to the 4th and 5th floors is much easier for 12- and 11-year-olds than for 6-year-olds."
Miller said that the space could either be turned into one giant elementary school, co-locate with another elementary school, as it's doing now, or house a middle school. While the district as a whole technically has enough middle school seats, as the DOE has pointed out, there are few on the Upper East Side. Parents don't want to send their kids to Tribeca or other parts of Manhattan-still within the district but not close to home-to go to school.
The DOE has not said what will go in the space. A press person did not respond to specific questions regarding the future of P.S. 158. That reticence has also led to the fear that the DOE is eyeing the space for a charter school.
"Charter schools are now wanting to come into our school district," said Jim Clynes, co-chair of CB 8's education committee, at the board meeting, holding up an advertisement he had torn out of AM New York for the Success Academy Charter Network. The charter company has opened schools in several neighborhoods throughout the city and faced a bitter legal fight to open one of their academies on the Upper West Side.
"We're not against charter schools but we are against a charter school moving into a public school in our district that is already overcrowded," Clynes said.
While the DOE won't confirm or deny the interest of charter schools, a representative for Success Academy said that they most likely won't be moving into P.S. 158 any time soon.
"Success has submitted a letter of intent in hopes of opening two new schools for the 2014 school year in District 2, but it's highly unlikely that they will be on the Upper East Side or in Tribeca," said spokesperson Kerri Lyon.
But parents are still on edge waiting for a verdict.
"From the DOE's analysis, there was a greater need for more elementary capacity rather than middle school capacity," said Miller, citing a presentation that the DOE gave to the CEC at a recent meeting when they said that there was not yet an official position on how to use the space.
"What we're more concerned about is that we're going to be presented with a decision instead of it being a true conversation," Miller said. "It's going to be a one-way conversation, that's what we fear."
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