I recently spent my evening at a Community Education Council (CEC) meeting at Sunset Park Prep Middle School to find out the latest on District 15. The CEC, is an official group of neighborhood parents and District representatives, who hold meetings each month to shape local education policy including approving school zoning lines, holding hearings on the capital plan, and evaluating community superintendents. I was there because I am following the issues around PS 133, the new combination District 13 and District 15 school that is being built on 4th Ave. and Butler.
Chancellor Joel Klein was in attendance, which meant that there was a lot of to and fro about statistics. He was asked some pointed questions by the CEC and the audience and deflected them like a politician. Business as usual. I wasn’t there to see him, though. I wanted to talk to the reps from the Office of Portfolio Development about what’s up with new programs and to find out what the District 15 CEC had to say about possible rezoning. I had an added benefit of getting to hear from some spectacular Secondary School for Research HS students.
As you might imagine, the proposed rezoning of parts of District 15 so that students will attend a new school in District 13 dominated the discussion. The school will open in Sept. 2012 and house the students from PS 133 as well as a large contingent from District 15. Where these D15 kids are coming from is very much up in the air. It is not a done deal in any way. CEC meetings will be held this year to hash it out, probably beginning in the new year.
Liz Phillips, the principal of PS 321, was in attendance and spoke eloquently about including the principals in the talks. The situation is not as simple as “capacity” and a creative approach to this particular process is vital to the health of all the involved schools. The Office of Portfolio Development (the new school people) promised that there would be public notices about these meetings (which as far as I can tell are announced at the very last minute) and if you are concerned about this issue you need to make it a priority to attend.
I will stress that there is absolutely no idea where the rezoning will be at this point. I also want to say thatthe new PS 133 is going to be a beautiful facility, Heather Foster-Mann is a smart and able principal, the school currently has some wonderful enrichments, they have very small class sizes and they are in negotiations for a Dual Language French Program, (they also have a lovely pre-k program) so it is well worth checking out on tours this year. They are temporarily housed on 4th Ave. and 8th St.
Another interesting tid bit is that the capital budget includes funds for two new K to 8 schools in D15, one in the north and one in the south. City Councilman, Brad Lander, made the plea that if anyone has an idea about where these schools could be housed, they should come forward, so we can spend that money!
Finally, at several points in the meeting students and teachers from the John Jay Schools, particularly the Secondary School for Research on 7th Avenue spoke. They were eloquent, poised and passionate. They were anxious to make the case to the audience that their screened high school is safe and strong and that parents from the neighborhood should consider it for their students. They are fighting the neighborhood impression that it is business as usual at John Jay, but I came away very impressed and I will be attending a tour this fall.