Old hand takes P.S. 234’s P.T.A. reins


By Julie Shapiro

P.S. 234’s new P.T.A. president is a familiar face: Kevin Doherty, who previously served as president from 2005 to 2007.

“I felt this was a crucial year, because of overcrowding and the need for more classroom space Downtown,” Doherty said of his return as leader at the high-performing Tribeca school. “I felt this was a time where expertise both in the school community and the external community make a difference.”

P.T.A. elections are usually held in the spring, but Doherty wasn’t elected until last Friday because of a mishap during the P.T.A.’s June elections. In June, high parent turnout overwhelmed the P.T.A., and they could not determine if the votes were valid, so they decided to hold a new election after the summer, several parents said.

The June election pitted Doherty against Liat Silberman, who was P.T.A. president during the ’07-’08 school year. Doherty won by one vote, according to a P.T.A. member.

Before the election redo last week, Silberman decided to withdraw, leaving Doherty to run unopposed. Silberman would not say why she withdrew.

Silberman said the P.T.A. could do very little over the summer because it was caught in limbo between the old leaders and the new ones, but Doherty said the P.T.A. usually slows down for the summer and still held an ice cream social for new families during August.

Silberman will remain on the P.T.A.’s Overcrowding Committee, and she also joined the School Leadership Team.

Doherty has been involved at P.S. 234 since his daughter, now 14, started attending school there in 1999. At one point, he brought all three of his children to P.S. 234 each day — but now only his youngest son, who is in fourth grade, still attends 234. Doherty is a stay-at-home dad who is also on the board of the Downtown Little League.

During his previous tenure as president, Doherty worked on noise mitigation for Sites 5B and 5C, where pile-driving threatened to disrupt P.S. 234 students and neighborhood residents. He attended community board meetings, rallied at City Hall and got elected officials on board. Ultimately, City Councilmember Alan Gerson brokered a deal between the city and developer Edward Minskoff to mitigate the noise at Site 5B.

Now Doherty hopes to use those same connections to fight the overcrowding that threatens to overwhelm P.S. 234 next fall. The school has a record number of kindergarteners this year and is already overflowing the annex built last fall and new space in Manhattan Youth’s community center. The new spaces are both on Site 5C, adjacent to the school.

“We’re busting at the seams,” Doherty said, “and I don’t think anyone can expect to wait until the green school [at Site 2B] is open.”

That K-8 school will open in 2010, and the K-8 Beekman St. School will open in 2010 or 2011, but they won’t come soon enough for P.S. 234 and neighboring P.S. 89, nor are the new schools a permanent solution, Doherty said.

But Doherty is optimistic about what he sees as progress with the city. The Department of Education has put forward several solutions to the overcrowding, and while parents vetoed many of them — such as the D.O.E.’s idea to bus fifth graders out of the neighborhood — at least the D.O.E. is acknowledging the problem, Doherty said.

The D.O.E.’s chief recent suggestion is to open an early elementary incubator for the two new schools next fall at 26 Broadway, though many parents are concerned about the location and the building’s lack of amenities. Doherty said he needed to see the space and learn more before weighing in.

On the more immediate horizon, the P.T.A. is planning a celebration of P.S. 234’s 20th birthday for this Sat., Sept. 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The carnival will fill Warren St. from West St. to Greenwich St. with rides, food, a memory lane and a collection of the school’s alumni and former teachers.