City offers some guarantees at 2 future middle schools

Downtown’s two new schools will have a traditional pre-K-8 model, with elementary students guaranteed a seat all the way through middle school, the Department of Education said this week.

Unlike students at P.S. 89 in Battery Park City who have to apply to attend I.S. 89, the middle school that shares the building, all graduating fifth graders at the Beekman St. school and the Site 2B school — now officially known as P.S./I.S. 276 — will be able to continue to sixth grade automatically, D.O.E. spokesperson Margie Feinberg said Tuesday.

“Yahoo!” said Ann DeFalco, co-chairperson of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee, when told of the news. “I’m all for it…. That will eliminate the stressful process of middle school choice.”

Julie Menin, chairperson of the board, agreed that the D.O.E.’s decision would alleviate anxiety for many parents.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Menin said. She added that the guaranteed middle school seat would allow siblings to say in the same school for a longer period of time, which makes parents’ lives easier.

But Barry Skolnick, a Battery Park City parent and member of C.B. 1, said it would be unfair to give some of the neighborhood’s children an automatic “in” for middle school while others are left to deal with the citywide selection process. P.S./I.S. 276 will be in southern B.P.C., so parents expect that residents of that part of the neighborhood will send their children there, while northern B.P.C. residents will continue to send their children to P.S. 89, where they do not have a guaranteed middle school seat in Lower Manhattan.

“Why is P.S. 89 the only school where parents have to worry about middle school?” Skolnick asked. “Why should their kids have a handicap?”

Tom Goodkind, another board member and B.P.C. parent, said parents in northern Battery Park City are “very scared.”

The D.O.E. will not decide the zoning for the two new schools, which they hope to open in 2010, until next year. The zoning discussion, which will also require rezoning P.S. 89 and P.S. 234, will start in the middle of next month, and both the community board and the District 2 Community Education Council will have the opportunity to weigh in.

Some of the elementary students at the two new schools will likely opt out of staying in the same place for middle school, since they may want to go to private school or one of the city’s specialized schools. DeFalco suggested that the city fill any middle school vacancies with students from the C.B. 1 area first, before opening the slots to all of District 2.

Ellen Foote, principal of I.S. 89, said she thought application-only middle schools like I.S. 89 were a better model.

“Families choose us because of the uniqueness of the school,” Foote said. “I question the strength of a school that becomes an auto default school.”

Foote said the school accepts most of the P.S. 89 students who pick I.S. 89 as their first choice.

— Julie Shapiro