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The Department of Education’s preliminary proposals for tackling overcrowding in District 3 have led to escalating tension between parents at P.S. 199 and The Center School, whose children share a building on West 70th Street.
Various factions from the two schools sharply disagree on whether The Center School should be moved to alleviate the space crunch at P.S. 199. Members of The Center School community say that race and class issues have led to their marginalization, while many P.S. 199 parents say that moving The Center School is the only choice.
Despite the discord, parents agree that a lack of foresight when it came to new residential construction in the neighborhood created this impasse—and more school seats in the district are a dire necessity. They

P.S. 199’s kindergarten enrollment has nearly doubled since 2003. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

P.S. 199’s kindergarten enrollment has nearly doubled since 2003. Photo By: Andrew Schwartz

hope that upcoming collaboration between district parents and the Department of Education will result in a solution amenable to all.
This fracas could be a harbinger of what’s to come elsewhere if the “strollerfication” and gentrification of Manhattan continues without school buildings rising at the same rate as condos.
In September, the department floated two initial proposals to alleviate District 3 overcrowding, kicking off a back-and-forth dialogue with the parent Community Education Council. Plan A involved rezoning throughout much of the district. Plan B basically leaves P.S. 199’s catchment lines alone, but moves two small middle schools, The Center School and The Anderson School, into extra space in P.S. 9 and M.S. 44, respectively.
Center School parents say that the inconvenience of the rezoning in Plan A has left one alternative: evicting their school from its 26-year-old home. “We don’t want to be their solution. We’re not their problem,” said Alan Madison, a former 199 parent and current Center School parent.
Indeed, many P.S. 199 parents feel that the department’s dual proposals leave them with only one viable choice. “As far as we see it, it’s the only option,” said Michelle Ciulla-Lipkin, a P.S. 199 parent. “No one has been able to come close to giving us an alternate solution.”
P.S. 199’s kindergarten enrollment has nearly doubled since 2003 as new residents flocked to the neighborhood, including to the new Trump complex on Riverside Boulevard.
Many parents who moved to the neighborhood with P.S. 199 in mind for their pre-school age children grew concerned that enrollment at the school would be capped. An unofficial group of area parents have started an online community, Save P.S. 199, urging the removal of The Center School.
Lee Huang, who founded the online group, is one such parent. His son is 4 years old. “I walk by P.S. 199 each day, and I really hope my son can go to the school we’re zoned for,” he said. “If they introduce capping, the parents are toast.”
The crowding has prevented P.S. 199 from using “cluster” rooms for art, music and other enrichment classes.
“The truth is it’s incredibly apparent from the moment you drop off your child that our school is crowded. My son’s class used to go the library, but now the librarian has to go into the classroom with a cart. They no longer have a music room,” said Ciulla-Lipkin.
However, not all P.S. 199 parents see the situation as quite so dire. Judy Myers said that getting back the cluster rooms should not be first priority when other schools may be more in need of resources. She feels that having the Center School continue to share the building, and keeping each school relatively small, is more in P.S.199’s interest than gaining extra classrooms.
“I’ve been at 199 for 11 years and I love the school. My kids are getting a world class education there, but fair is fair,” she said.
Center School parents say their small size and diverse demographics—students have to apply to get in, whereas P.S. 199 draws from the surrounding neighborhood—have put them at a disadvantage when leveraging for their cause. “It’s a David and Goliath story. We have a totally different demographic. We’re not homogeneous by race or economic class,” said Madison, the Center School parent.
Roxalyn Moret, another Center School parent, said the high-performing school is one of the rare schools in New York where de facto segregation is not prevalent.
“What I feel could happen in moving The Center School is they could upset that balance,” Moret said. “It insures that 199 will become a white, affluent grammar school, [associated] with the Trump Towers. Center School is school for New York City to be really proud of, a school that the city should try and replicate, not take apart.”
Center School parents question why the department eschewed options that would inconvenience P.S. 199 parents, such as trailers or zoning children to the underutilized P.S. 191, immediately to the south on West 61st Street. A September letter to the parent council from The Center School PTA mentioned that the middle school parents raise a fraction of the funds that their counterparts at P.S. 199 do, and asked why “disproportionate concern” was being paid to a P.S. 199 at their expense.
For their part, P.S. 199 parents say their concerns are with raw numbers and viable solutions, and are wary of touching the diversity issue. “We’re a catchment school, and we have no control of the diversity of the school,” Ciulla-Lipkin said. “but I do believe our school is diverse.”
One thing parents from both schools agree on is that even if The Center School is moved, it won’t be a long-term solution, even for P.S. 199, which will face crowding again down the line. Most agree that a new elementary school is needed.
Keeping this need in mind, the District 3 parent council has not endorsed either of the department’s crowding proposals, and is instead asking for a good faith effort from the department to add more seats while keeping the unique schools in the neighborhood as intact as possible.
Will Havemann, a spokesperson from the department, said that the city is committed to working with parents to find a viable solution for all parties involved. “We realize that asking a school to move is a tough choice. We acknowledge that, and we want to make sure we’re working with the community,” he said.
The department hopes it can come to a consensus on the issue by Nov. 30.

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  • andrea casson

    Many thanks for your coverage of the Center School/ P.S. 199 issues. As a Center School parent of a 6th grader, I feel the school community would suffer greatly if we needed to move. 26 years of successful learning and leadership should not be punished, and forcing all to uproot and start over would be exactly that. The pleasure and honour of having a small middle school where our son feels safe and can flourish in, is a true gift. These few rooms on top of P.S. 199 do more than enducate chidlren, they nuture and guide them….

  • Frank DiGiacomo

    Thank you for your balanced coverage of P.S. 199 and The Center School. My son attends sixth grade at the latter, and, frankly, I can’t understand why P.S. 199 parents are spending so much time, money and energy working to move The Center School when they could be using all of that political muscle to work with us—and the other schools in District 3—to lobby the Department of Education to fast-track its recent proposal to put an additional elementary school in with P.S. 9 that will help stop overcrowding for the entire district.

    Moving The Center School is a short-term solution that will have negative long-term ramifications for its students and for the District 3 community. As New Yorkers, we are all familiar with the research that indicates that moving is the third most stressful life experience behind death and divorce. We move a lot in this city, but never get used to it. For years afterward, our lives feel uprooted, discombobulated and out of sync. That’s an unfair burden to put onto middle-school students who are already grappling with a heavier, more rigorous academic workload; new social pressures; and the unsettling onset of adolescence.

    But moving The Center School doesn’t just put the students at risk. Highly successful teaching methods and traditions that the school’s tireless founder Elaine Schwartz and her dedicated, innovative faculty have perfected during the school’s 26 years atop P.S. 199 will be jeopardized, too. And that will impact the entire Upper West Side. Remember, The Center School takes its kids from all over District 3, and its 48-percent minority student body is a reflection of the district’s diversity.

    The Center School manages to educate and inspire 214 kids in 8 rooms, 3-half rooms and an office. It is accessible to the handicapped and is one of the only middle schools in the district able to serve the special needs members of our community. Over 80 percent of each graduating class is admitted to a Specialized High School or to La Guardia. One hundred percent of our students who take Regents Math pass, and 95 percent of the children taking Latin pass the New York State Latin Proficiency examination. According to the D.O.E. Progress Report, The Center School placed in the 97th Percentile of all K-8 schools.

    It would be a shame to jeopardize this remarkable track record. There is a better solution than moving The Center School. Let’s work together to achieve it.

  • Jamie H

    Thank you for covering this story–but lets get real about this.
    The Center School has delivered great results and has strong leadership that should be able to continue to grow and thrive in whatever physical space they occupy. Our 4 year olds who leave next door to the school who will have to be bussed to schools that are subpar caliber after we paid a premium to live in this district is aburd. Having attended public school in manhattan and assuming our children would do the same we should not be punished because the developers in nyc built a significant number of apartment buildings in our catchment and the city made no accomodations for this. The Center School has been given great options as we understand of schools taht they can move to. Your children will continue to thrive under the leadership you want and to think that your children will not be able to achieve the same results in a different physical home is shortchanging your own children.
    This is not an ideal situation for anyone–but we deserve to have our children in our neighborhood school. This is about who should be given priority — neighborhood kids for a neighborhood catchment school or an unzoned middle school.

  • Karen Dinitz

    I am a concerned parent who is zoned for PS 199 and there is no option other than moving the Center School.

    I am also a single parent and count on my community to watch over my child. PS199 is our catchment school. It is why I live here and where I want my child to go. None of the other alternatives on the table allow for this to happen.

    It is too late to make other plans for this coming year. Many of us don’t have the option to move or certainly to afford private school.

    The idea that this is in any way the same hardship for the Center School parents and children is ridiculous – it will be a change – yes, it will be an adjustment – yes – but they will still have the same school, teachers etc intact and PS 9 has offered them the world to come to there school intact. Scattering our 4 and 5 year olds to the four corners of the district is not the same.

  • Charles Brush

    Center School itself is overcrowded and holds classes in hallways, stairwells, and closets. If both P.S. 199 and Center School can have more space, then why is there so much opposition to a relocation to 77th street? This could be a huge win for both schools. Center School could have the space it needs to serve its students better and add programs, and P.S. 199 could have its music, art, and other cluster rooms back, and reduce overcrowding. It seems like an obvious solution. The question is why the Center School administration is so vehemently opposed to a solution that could benefit its own students.

  • parent in request of full disclosure

    “We don’t want to be their solution. We’re not their problem,” said Alan Madison, a former 199 parent and current Center School parent
    AND ELAINE SCHWARTZ’ SON-IN-LAW whose children and all his childrens friends who attend public middle schools have all been granted access to a school through questionable admissions practices that allow for this type of hand selection…..

    Why doesnt Alan announce that he is Elaines son in law in all of his interviews? Hmmmmmmmm

  • parent in request of full disclosure

    “We don’t want to be their solution. We’re not their problem,” said Alan Madison, a former 199 parent and current Center School parent
    AND ELAINE SCHWARTZ’ SON-IN-LAW whose children and all his childrens friends who attend public middle schools have all been granted access to the CENTER SCHOOL through questionable admissions practices that allow for this type of hand selection…..

    Why doesnt Alan announce that he is Elaines son in law in all of his interviews? Hmmmmmmmm

  • TornerrarpGex

    Thanks for posting, as I have been looking for this topic for a long time.

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