Parents hope petition will force city, DOE to act
Parents in Lower Manhattan say that overcrowding at Battery Park City School (P.S. 276) is nearing a breaking point, and they have launched an online petition demanding that Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s Department of Education take decisive action and limit the number of incoming kindergarten classes for next year and beyond.
Started late last month, the petition has already garnered more than 600 signatures in the hopes that city officials will limit to three the number of incoming kindergarten classes at BPC and help preserve the school’s noted science, music, art and pre-K programs.
Parents and teachers at the school say that continued overcrowding will jeopardize specialized programs simply due to the fact that the classrooms may have to be used to accommodate increasing numbers of students at the school.
“Next year marks the first year we won’t have enough classrooms to maintain programs if we continue to admit kindergarten students beyond our capacity,” said Matt Schneider, a PTA co-president at BPC, via email.
“Our pre-K program could be eliminated entirely. Our science, art and music rooms could be converted to regular classrooms,” he added. “The quality of education for our kids diminishes.”
The three-year-old BPC School was designed to handle only three classes per grade, but Schneider said the school has been forced by the DOE to handle four classes in 2010 and five classes in both 2011 and 2012.
Posting comments to the school’s online petition, BPC parent Tracie Basch wrote: “Both my children attend this well-regarded school and love going to school. It would be a disservice to our children to alter our well respected science, art and music programs as well as discontinue our pre-K program.”
She added, “For our children to be able to compete in this new global economy, we need to find ways to improve our science and arts programs—not take away these specialized classrooms and revert to them being on a cart. That is not how you get children excited about learning.”
At a recent Community Board 1 meeting, BPC’s Principal Terri Ruyter said that for the coming school year there may not be enough classrooms for students in pre-K through 8th grade. She also said that the time is at hand to develop both short and long-term solutions to the school’s dire overcrowding problem.
Solutions suggested by Schneider and the school’s overcrowding committee include, in addition to limiting classes and class sizes, find and lease more interim classroom space to address shortages now, and build more schools in Lower Manhattan as a long-term solution.
“I think the persistent school overcrowding in Lower Manhattan points to inadequate planning or worse, a lack of planning post 9/11,” said Shino Tanikawa, president of Community Education Council 2.
“We need population projections at the neighborhood level, which neither the DOE nor the School Construction Authority currently undertakes. And, we need better methodology for projecting school-age populations, as has been advocated by Dr. Eric Greenleaf for the past several years,” Tanikawa said.
Greenleaf is an NYU professor, a downtown parent and a member of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding task force.
As of press time, the DOE did not return calls seeking comment on overcrowding at BPC.
However, most recently the DOE has said it is “on track” to meet growing demand for school seats in Lower Manhattan, and will make 700 seats available with the addition of the Peck Slip School opening in 2015.
In the meantime, the overcrowding at BPC seems to be taking a toll on students and performance. A DOE progress report for 2011-2012 gave the school an overall grade of C. The progress reports measure a variety of factors including student’s performance on standardized tests from year to year.
One parent at the school, who requested their name be withheld, said, “What I would love to read is how this beautiful state-of-the-art school based in upscale Battery Park has so very quickly become an uninspired disappointment.”
Asked about the school’s less-than-stellar DOE progress report, Schneider did not fully concur with the report’s findings. “There are a host of problems related to the way schools are measured by the progress report, and I don’t believe that report accurately reflects teaching and learning in our school,” Schneider said.
“That said,” he added, “it’s hard to argue that large class sizes don’t negatively affect learning for some students.”
Moreover, Schneider said that teachers at BPC work hard to overcome large class sizes, but time is limited, and teachers can only find one-on-one time with a certain number of students. “That,” he said, “has to have an impact.”
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