PS 150 Parents Tell DOE Officials They Won't Go to Chelsea

PS 150 parent Coren Sharples speaks at a meeting about the school's proposed move to Chelsea. Listening, from left, is DOE planner Drew Patterson, District 2 superintendent Mariano Guzman, District 2 family advocate Jennifer Greenblatt and PS 150 principal Jenny Bonnet. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 01, 2013

We won’t go.

That was the message that PS 150 parents brought to Department of Edu­cation officials on April 30, at a meeting on the proposed move of their school to a new facility in Chelsea.

Crowded into the Independence Plaza North community room, across from their children’s school in the IPN complex, the parents all raised their hands to show that they would not send their children to the new school when it opens in 2014.

And just as unanimously, they said they would choose their zoned local school instead. (PS 150 is Lower Manhattan’s only unzoned elementary school.)

“We’re not portable,” said Buxton Midyette, the father of two children in the school. “We live here.”

UPDATE: The school's staff later sent a letter to parents expressing their support for the move and explaining their reasons.

The new school, expected to be a state-of-the-art facility, is being built in the former Foundling Hospital at 17th Street and 6th Avenue. It is zoned for children in Greenwich Village and Chel­sea. As PS 150, with the PS 150 staff, it would keep that same zone.

Just days before the meeting, the parents learned about the DOE’s plan in a letter from their principal, Jenny Bonnet, and immediately organized against it. At a performance on stage at the Tribeca Film Festival street fair, some of the PS 150 singers donned t-shirts with the message “Save Our School,” while their parents silently conveyed the same plea with posters held over their heads.

At the meeting with Community School District 2 super­intendent Mar­iano Guzman and Drew Patterson, the DOE’s director of planning for southern Man­hattan, parents told the officials that thir plan would destroy their community, and a school that has been successful.

“We will not accept [the children] being uprooted,” said PTA president Wendy Chapman, reading from a letter to the superintendent. “As parents we chose PS 150 for our children because of the intimacy, curriculum and location in our neighborhood…The Tribeca Learning Center [PS 150] is the embodiment of the successful small school.”

But Guzman, who is well regarded in District 2, said it was, in fact, the school’s small size, with only 170 students and one class per grade, that factored into the decision.

The city’s special education reform movement, which integrates special needs children into general education classrooms, along with the school’s added burden to meet the new Common Core Standards, call for more re­sources and staffing than a small school like PS 150 can provide, he said. In addition, “it’s nearly impossible” for teachers to develop professionally in a school with only one class per grade.

“All of those issues combined gave reason to pause and to be concerned about what is it that we can do to be helpful and supporting,” Guzman said.

Many of the parents resisted the suggestion that the children’s education was compromised by the school’s size. But the most emotional response came from a tearful second-grade teacher, Danielle Demaise, a 14-year veteran of the school who drew a standing ovation from the parents when she denied that teachers cannot improve their skills in a small school.

“I feel like I’ve grown as a teacher,” she said. “I’ve revised my teaching every year, and every year I get better as a teacher at this school!”

Paul Hovitz, co-chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Com­mittee, told the crowd that he is hopeful that a new school will open Downtown, and suggested that it be the new PS 150. “Enlarge 150, because it needs en­larging,” he said. “Do it down here and guarantee people a seat in this community.”

Some parents at other Lower Man­hattan schools worry about the possible influx of children who otherwise would have attended PS 150.

In a letter to parents at her school, PS 234 principal Lisa Ripperger wrote that she has received “numerous inquiries” about how the PS 150 move would affect PS 234.

“A few who live in the PS 234 zone may choose to join our school community,” Ripperger wrote. “…for those who do, we look forward to embracing and welcoming them into our community.”

At PS 89, the kindergarten waitlist has grown by five students to 35, parent coordinator Connie Schraft said, due to the ad­dition of zoned families who would have chosen PS 150.

The city’s Panel on Educational Policy is expected to vote on the proposal on June 19, with a public hearing on the plan to be held earlier that month. The panel, with eight of the 13 members appointed by the mayor, rarely votes down a DOE proposal.

Parents pleaded for more time to make their case, saying that the DOE is rushing the process.

“That time frame could change,” said the DOE’s Drew Patterson. “I’m not going to commit to changing it right now but we certainly have a lot to think about, and we will do that.”