City chooses choice for Downtown schools

By Julie Shapiro

Lower Manhattan parents will get to pick which school their kindergarteners attend next fall, but they won’t necessarily get their first choice.

Parents had been anxiously awaiting word from the city on how the Department of Education will decide which incoming students will go to P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 next fall and which will go to an incubator school in Tweed Courthouse instead. The students who enroll in the Tweed incubator next fall would transfer to the two new schools coming to Lower Manhattan: P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City, opening in 2010, and the Beekman school, opening in 2010 or 2011.

Parents zoned for the overcrowded P.S. 89 in Battery Park City and P.S. 234 in Tribeca will submit their first and second choices to the D.O.E. between Jan. 12 and March 2. If more parents want to send their kids to P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 than space allows, the D.O.E. will prioritize children with siblings in the school and those who live nearby. Those who live near either of the two new schools may get sent to Tweed even if that’s not their first choice.

“It sounds like the most reasonable thing to do under the circumstances, but it still leaves a number of questions open,” said Paul McGeough, a Financial District resident whose son will enter kindergarten next fall. “Is Beekman going to be on par with [P.S.] 234, and if so, how?”

McGeough is currently zoned for P.S. 234, and he wants more information about the teachers and principal who will be at Tweed next year. He also wants to see the space.

The D.O.E. would not set a timetable this week for giving parents more information. The Ross Global Academy, a charter school that occupies Tweed, does not want visits to cause a disruption, said Will Havemann, spokesperson for the D.O.E. The city has not decided where Ross will go next year.

In Tweed, students who will eventually attend the Beekman school will be separated from those who will attend P.S./I.S. 276, and the teachers and staff will be separate as well. Next fall, at least one of the principals for the new schools will be in place at Tweed, which will have about six classes. The Chambers St. building is behind City Hall and is also the D.O.E.’s headquarters.

Learan Kahanov, a Seaport resident whose son will start kindergarten next year, said he would like his son to attend P.S. 234, but he is not optimistic about his son getting in. Both P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 will have fewer kindergarten classes next year than this year, so they can fit in their buildings, and Kahanov thinks his proximity to the Beekman school will mean his son is shut out of P.S. 234.

“The more I think about it,” Kahanov said, “the more I would like to put out a call to arms to parents in the Seaport and Financial District: Instead of fighting our way into 234, let’s fight to make sure Tweed and Beekman are the best possible schools.”

Kahanov called the D.O.E. “tight-lipped” and said it was frustrating to not have more information about the character of the new schools. He especially wanted reassurance that Beekman would have the same progressive education model as P.S. 234.

Kahanov thinks the D.O.E. made a smart political move in giving parents a first and second choice, but he thinks the end result will be similar to the D.O.E. zoning the new schools now with the students who live nearby and putting those students in the incubator.

Havemann said it would be impossible to zone the new schools for next fall.

“If we were to create zones for the two new schools now, it’s possible we would just have to change them,” Havemann said. “We don’t have a great idea of how many kids are moving into the new [residential] buildings. We just want to make sure we’re planning appropriately, and at least giving parents the option of which schools they want to attend.”

Havemann said it was a tradeoff between giving parents choices and making sure the schools are not overcrowded.

“We know these are important and delicate decisions,” Havemann said.

The D.O.E. has not said how many kindergarten classes Tweed, P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 will have next year.

The D.O.E. will eventually create zones for the two new schools, and some of the students attending the Tweed incubator may not live in those zones, but they will still be allowed to go to the new schools with their classmates, Havemann said. The D.O.E. is allowing parents to choose either new school for their child, regardless of where they live, so a parent in the Seaport could choose P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City if they prefer it to the Beekman school. Either way, that child would go to Tweed next fall.

Pam Hughes, a Seaport resident who expected her son to start kindergarten at P.S. 234 next fall, said she and her neighbors are now leaning toward Tweed instead.

“I would have preferred to have Beekman ready, but since it’s not, we’ll go with what we can get and try and make [Tweed] as great and as nice as P.S. 234,” Hughes said.

As long as Tweed has small classes and quality teachers, Hughes said parent involvement will help make the school successful. She would prefer not to have her son switch buildings partway through elementary school, but if he stayed with his classmates, teachers and principal, Hughes said he would be fine.

What would happen if too many parents felt like Hughes and picked Tweed over P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, and Tweed ended up overcrowded instead?

“We don’t anticipate that,” Havemann said.