Back to school waitlists

P.S. 276 students last year.  Downtown Express File Photo
P.S. 276 students last year. Downtown Express File Photo

K12By KAITLYN MEADE   |  Applications poured into Downtown schools in the last two days of kindergarten registration, leaving four with waitlists. Parents have faced overcrowding for years in Lower Manhattan, but even with new schools opening, there is not enough space to accommodate zoned students.

In the last two days of registration, P.S. 234’s list increased by ten students, and Peck Slip’s by eight. And while P.S. 276 had fewer register than predicted, it is still 40 students over capacity, prompting the D.O.E. to move a 276 Pre-K class to the Peck Slip School to make space for incoming kindergartners.

P.S. 276 will only have one Pre-K classroom in the coming year (a total of 36 students for half-day sessions) as part of a recent proposal by Battery Park City School’s principal Terri Ruyter, who suggested halving the Pre-K program in 2013 and removing it completely the following year.

But not even closing a Pre-K class will alleviate the need for more seats in the fall. Parent coordinator Erica Weldon said that there were 140 students registered for the 100 seats made available by opening a fourth kindergarten class, though the school is only designed to take three.

“Pre-K is not mandatory yet, kindergarten is,” she said of the decision.  “We have to find seats for them first.”
The proposal was not met with approval at Community Board 1.

“The creation of the Pre-K for the Peck Slip School, we believe, is a precursor to the elimination of the Pre-Ks at P.S. 276 so that they could use these rooms to go forward with the five kindergartens, which would devastate the school,” Paul Hovitz co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Youth and Education Committee, said at the community board’s meeting Feb. 26.

“This would serve to dismantle programs, jeopardize upper grade sections from opening or continue with the sections they have, and force class sizes near or over 30 for the first grades,” Joyce wrote in an email.

The school opened five K classes in Fall 2012, but cannot do so this year as it expands to higher grade levels.
Last November, P.S. 276 parents started an online petition to limit kindergarten classrooms to three, fearing that extra classrooms would jeopardize the school’s music, art and science classrooms, as well as its celebrated Pre-K program.

To alleviate the need for Pre-K seats, the D.O.E. announced that the Peck Slip School will be opening a half-day Pre-K program.

Principal Maggie Sienna called it a “one-shot deal,” for this year, which will accommodate 18 Pre-K kids in the morning and another 18 in the afternoon. Whether Pre-K will be available at either school the year after is a mystery.

The Peck Slip School, which was on target with 53 registered kindergartners two days before registration closed, now has 61 zoned students and another 17 unzoned. They will be opening a waitlist only a year after they opened for incubation at the Tweed Courthouse.

The school is scheduled to move to the old Peck Slip Post Office building in two years, but until then is only mandated to take two kindergarten classes per year, which will fill their six classrooms in the final year before they move in 2015.

P.S. 234 in Tribeca and P.S. 89 in Battery Park City will also have to open waitlists for zoned students, and the Spruce Street School will again open a third kindergarten class though originally set to have two. Spruce Street, with 72 seats, is “right where we want to be” said parent coordinator Julie Lam, who reported that they had 70 kindergartners register for 2013-14.

However, P.S. 234 is now almost two classrooms over their 125-seat capacity, according to the school’s parent coordinator Magda Lenski. There are 173 kindergartners signed up for Fall 2013, with ten of them registering in the last two days.

The school at 292 Greenwich St. is slated for five kindergarten classes this year. Like P.S. 276, they were able to open an extra class for waitlisted students last year because of the way the classrooms were set up, but it will not be possible this year.

“We don’t have the physical space,” said Lenski.

P.S. 89’s parent coordinator Connie Schraft said that at last count, there were 110 zoned and 22 unzoned applicants to the school for only 75 seats. The unzoned applicants will not be considered.

Waitlist numbers will be announced to parents in April. Registration is not first come first served, so zoned students who signed up the first day will not have an advantage over parents who sign up before the deadline. Zoned children with siblings already in the school will be given first priority.

“It’s amazing, but not unexpected, if you look at births and construction,” Eric Greenleaf said of the situation at Peck Slip. Greenleaf, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who has two children in Downtown schools, has been closely tracking Lower Manhattan’s school population numbers for years.

“The first step is admitting there’s a problem,” he said of the growing population. Greenleaf said that about 471 kids entered kindergarten Downtown in the current school year, but in 2015, even with the opening of the Peck Slip School in its final location, there will only be 475 for a pool that is expected to increase by several hundred.

“These children aren’t going to leave. And they are going to need more middle school seats as well. We have proved this year after year and important time is being lost,” said Joyce.

With reporting by Josh Rogers