Shortly after being elected to the state Assembly five years ago, I attend- ed the groundbreaking of the new East Side Middle School with then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. I had campaigned on creating new zoned elementary schools for the neighborhood, and I told Klein that all of the local schools were literally bursting at the seams, with each one at 150 percent capacity-or worse. The Upper East Side had become a victim of its own success; with great principals, terrific teachers and engaged parents,
Unsurprisingly, few parents feel safe or comfortable at the prospect of their tweens or young teens traveling from the East 70s, 80s and 90s down to the Financial District every school day.
families were choosing to stay in the city and send their children to public school.
At first, Klein and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) refused to admit we needed at least one new elementary school. The community was determined not to allow the overcrowd- ing to worsen, and elected officials orga- nized with parents to keep pressure on the DOE. Ultimately, Klein came around and worked with the community to estab- lish the new P.S. 151 in 2009.
Since then, two rezonings have led to the creation of two more elementary schools in the neighborhood: P.S. 267 and P.S. 527.
Fast-forward five years: East Side Middle School is already over capacity and those parents who fought for new elemenary schools are anxiously beginning to wonder where their children will attend middle school. With a limited number of academically rigorous middle schools, Upper East Side parents are
once again demanding more options from the DOE. A new middle school is desperately needed.
With P.S. 267 scheduled to move out of the P.S. 158 annex, there will be suitable space on the Upper East Side to open just such a school. We know the site would work, because East Side Middle School used it for years and coexisted well with P.S. 158. The Community Education Council for District 2, the body that replaced the local school board, has heeded the call from the community and recently passed a resolution calling on the DOE to create a new Upper East Side middle school in the annex of P.S. 158.
One might think DOE officials would have learned from the prior success asso- ciated with parents creating elementary schools and would work with them to devise a solution to the East Side's mid- dle school dilemma. Instead, the agency seems intent on making excuses and playing numbers games.
The DOE likes to claim that there are more than enough middle school seats in District 2, yet most of those are located downtown. District 2 is one of the larg- est geographic school districts in the city, an unwieldy patchwork stretching from the Upper East Side all the way to Lower Manhattan and over into Chelsea. Unsurprisingly, few parents feel safe or comfortable at the prospect of their tweens or young teens traveling from the East 70s, 80s and 90s down to the Financial District every school day.
In fact, the very size of District 2 may pose an impediment to realizing a new Upper East Side middle school. It may be time to break District 2 up into smaller
and more manageable school districts, forcing the DOE to give more local middle school options to families throughout the diverse, far-flung neigh- borhoods currently located in District 2.
While creating smaller, more responsive and accountable school districts is a worthy long- term goal, we cannot afford to
let the DOE pass up the opportunity at hand to establish a middle school now.
One promising proposal that could be implemented by the start of the 2012 school year is to allow P.S. 77, the Lower Lab School, to expand from an elemen- tary school to a program for kindergar- ten through 8th grade. Lower Lab has an established principal and curriculum, and expanding the number of sections for sixth grade would give Upper East Side families another quality middle school option on Day 1.
Whether the DOE lets P.S. 77 expand or simply incubates a new school, it should use the P.S. 158 annex as a middle school. Allowing the DOE to expand P.S. 158 into a giant elementary school would be a disservice to its staff and students, destroying its wonderful character. Even worse would be to allow a charter school to assume the space.
The community hopes the DOE will wake up and realize what is so evident to Upper East Side families: all 5th graders eventually become 6th graders and they will need a place to go to school-soon.
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