P.S. 150 parents fight effort to evict school from Tribeca

Downtown Express Photo by Milo Hess
Downtown Express Photo by Milo Hess

BY JOSH ROGERS | April 7 was a happy day for Bettina Teodoro. It was the Downtown Little League’s opening day, but more importantly, it was the day she read the letter accepting her 5-year-old son to her first choice elementary school, P.S. 150 in Tribeca.

“We were so excited we had a six-year plan,” she said.

Like many parents, she was attracted to the small community of active parents at P.S. 150. The school has just one class per grade.

Not only did Teodoro think Henry had a secure spot, she knew that her 3-year-old daughter, as the sibling of a P.S. 150 student, would be almost guaranteed a spot in the pre-K program in a year.

She made sure to do two things the next day. She enrolled Henry in P.S. 150, and then did something for someone she probably didn’t know: she gave up her spot in P.S. 89 in Battery Park City.

“We were told [holding both seats] wasn’t the right thing to do — we thought we’d save some agony for a family waiting for a spot,” she said.

But last week her plans and many others were thrown for a loop. Principal Jenny Bonnet wrote an email to parents about a proposal to move miles away to Chelsea for the 2014-15 school year.

Teodoro went back to P.S. 89 and now is 34th on the waiting list.

The new school would be on the site of the former Foundling Hospital at 17th St. and Sixth Ave.

Parents and students already in the school are also upset. They painted “Save Our School” t-shirts and wore them for the student performance at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Family Festival Saturday.

“By moving the school to a big building, you’re changing the foundation of what the school is all about,” said Jennifer Weisbord, a Tribeca mother. “We could’ve gone to P.S. 234, we could’ve gone to P.S. 11.”

P.S. 234, the Tribeca school always in high demand, this year has a wait list of 50. Weisbord said she considered P.S, 11 in Chelsea because her daughter was accepted to the gifted and talented program. She said the “small-knit community school” feeling close to her home is what makes the school so attractive.

Bonnet wrote that the announcement came after a meeting between Superintendent Mariano Guzman and the School Leadership Team. She said it was “due to overcrowding issues in our downtown schools, questionable economic viability of a small school, concerns about professional development and lack of opportunity for collaboration for our teachers and expanded opportunities for our students….

“The Department of Education realizes that this will be an unexpected inconvenience and shock for many of you.”

The agency has pledged to maintain the kindergarten space in Lower Manhattan if the plan is finalized, but Tricia Joyce and other Downtown school advocates say the proposal has exacerbated the overcrowding problem because many P.S. 150 families are trying to find space in the other Lower Manhattan schools.

The school, which has seven classrooms from pre-K – 5th grade, could possibly serve as a pre-K center, which would open up space in P.S. 89, 276, Spruce Street School and Peck Slip School. It could also “incubate” a new school if space were found elsewhere Downtown, but no final plan has been set.

Superintendent Guzman has cited two main reasons for the proposed move, said Joyce and Paul Hovitz, respectively the chairperson and co-chairperson of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education committee.

One reason is the city’s concern about the high cost of paying a principal’s salary for a school with only about 190 students.

The other is worry about the new standardized tests based on a new curriculum, according to Hovitz and Joyce, who have discussed the matter with Guzman. The city plan is to have each teacher in a grade get training in one aspect of the new curriculum, and then share the info with his or her colleagues in the same grade. P.S. 150 does not fit that model.

Guzman met with parents Tuesday night at a meeting closed to the press.

Buxton Midyette, who organized the t-shirt campaign, said “a lot of the issues he raised we are already dealing with,” citing a recent change in the math curriculum.

Midyette said he was hopeful after the meeting because it seemed like Guzman was listening to parent concerns.

He said a dramatic moment that may have turned the tide at the beginning was when P.T.A. leader Wendy Chapman asked how many parents planned to transfer to a neighborhood school.

“Every hand in the room went up,” said Midyette.

One hand that was not in the room was Adrienne Lytton, a Battery Park City mom, who is now busy house hunting in the suburbs.

She said P.S. 150’s smallness would have kept her in the city. Her son got a P.S. 150 kindergarten slot, and she was hoping her daughter would attend as well, but the announcement’s timing is prompting her family to move.

“They take something special,” she said, “and they try to destroy it.”

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