LETTER: Searching for Public School Space on the U.W.S.

| 17 Feb 2015 | 05:09

It's not in my nature to say, "I told you so," but when it comes to needing more space in public schools, I'm proud to shout to the Department of Education (DOE) from the rooftop of any Riverside South high-rise: "I TOLD YOU SO!"

In 2006, the DOE lost a valuable opportunity to purchase land and build a new public school at Riverside South. Over 2,500 apartments were built in the area, and not surprisingly, families moved in. As chair of Community Board 7 from 2007-2009, I worked with the District 3 Community Education Council (D3 CEC) to address the growing wait lists for local children to attend kindergarten at P.S. 199 and P.S. 87. Our findings were clear: six new classrooms for kindergarten students would be needed to address overcrowding in the coming years. The DOE agreed to open a new school (P.S. 452) with three kindergarten sections-placing the school in the I.S. 44 O'Shea complex and displacing West Side Prep to P.S. 145. Within two years the DOE allowed Upper West Success, a charter school, to open with two new kindergarten sections in the Brandeis building, and many of its students are from the southern part of the Upper West Side.

At the beginning of the summer, there were over 100 students on the wait list for P.S. 199. While some families chose different schools and a Kindergarten class was added to P.S. 199 (for this year only), there are still approximately forty very anxious families whose children may not be able to attend their zoned school.

To add to the P.S. 199 space crunch, two high-rise residential buildings are going up along Amsterdam Avenue within the school zone over the next few years, and they will bring hundreds of families with young children. It's safe to say that this won't be the last year of kindergarten wait lists at P.S. 199.

While upcoming kindergarten families should fight for a comprehensive plan from the DOE to address the inadequate space planning, there is good news for the families who were on the waitlists for kindergarten in 2009: their children will attend middle school in the 2015-2016 school year, and the DOE is opening a new one in the building currently occupied by the Beacon high school.

Beacon will move to West 44th street at the end of this school year, and the DOE is actively preparing to renovate the building for a middle school that will grow to include a high school as the students get older. D3 CEC and CB 7 gave the DOE a pair of carefully crafted resolutions for a grade 6-12 school, and DOE has answered those requests in full. The West End Secondary School for Urban Studies will be helmed by Interim Acting Principal Jessica Jenkins, and it will have a portfolio-based admissions policy. All of the details will be found in the DOE's Middle School Directory that is published in the fall. The key to West End's success will be parents and future middle-schoolers taking the time to learn more about the school and applying.

It is up to us to continue to advocate for proper space planning, community input into the types of schools we want for our children, and more equitable zoning so that we can begin each school year with hope and excitement for our children's future, not anxiety and confusion.

Helen Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side's 6th district in the city council.