PS/IS 276 Principal: Sacrifice Pre-K to Help Relieve Kindergarten Crowding

Among all the Downtown schools, PS 276 in lower Battery Park City has the most critical shortage of kindergarten seats.

Feb. 07, 2013

The principal of PS/IS 276 presented a proposal Thursday for tackling the growing classroom shortage at her school.

Terri Ruyter told a meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force that she reluctantly favors freeing up two classrooms by ending pre-kindergarten at her school, at least until the 2017-2018 school year.

For the coming year only, she said, she would keep one of those rooms for pre-kindergarten “to provide a cushion for some families.”

“I feel like I’m throwing pre-k out and I don’t mean to do that,” Ruyter said. “I think pre-k is a really important thing. Our pre-k is fabulous.”

Ruyter unsuccessfully fought the Department of Education the last two years over its demands to put five kindergarten classes in her school, which is intended to have three. Now, she said, she would be willing to accept four kindergarten classes. That would mean collapsing those four classes into three “huge” first grades the following year, she said, “but I don’t know that I really have a choice.”

Ruyter’s proposal, which also includes limiting enrollment in the middle school’s sixth grade next year to two rather than its current three sections, comes amid a growing sense of crisis among the school’s parents over crowding.

So far 125 children have preregistered or filled out a pre-enrollment intake form for kindergarten at PS 276 and a total of 150 are projected to enroll, according to Erica Weldon, the school’s parent coordinator.

The Department of Education has yet to decide how to handle the demand.

“Terri and I have been talking about a plan for 276, weighing a number of different concerns and perspectives,” Drew Patterson, the DOE’s Director of Planning for South Manhattan, told the gathering. “We haven’t completely arrived yet at a 100 percent solidified plan for 276 but I think we’re getting close and were working on it.”

Ruyter recently took Patterson and representatives of elected officials on a tour of the school to make clear what she maintains is an absence of available rooms, especially “cluster” rooms used for art, music and science.  “It’s fine to see it in the abstract, to look at a plan that doesn’t have any people in the rooms,” Ruyter said. “But when you tour the building and you see this is what the rooms look like with 33 eighth graders in them then it makes this empty little box on a piece of paper mean something else.”

Later this year, the city will come up with its next five-year capital plan for constructing schools. Whether Lower Manhattan will get another new school, as Downtown elected officials and school advocates have long demanded, is yet to be seen.

“Going forward we’ll be getting our [demographic] projections,” Michael Mirisola, of the city’s School Construction Authority, told the task force. “We hope they match with your projections—possibly not, probably not—but we’ll sit down and figure out where we go from here.”

Eric Greenleaf, a member of the task force who has been making those projections for years on behalf of concerned parents, warned that at the rate that births Downtown have been growing, by 2015—the year the Peck Slip School opens in its new building—there will be a shortage of at least 200 kindergarten seats. 

“And the School Construction Authority,” he said, “tells us repeatedly we don’t need any more schools.”