Before there is a consensus on the proposed 1,000-seat school in East New York, issues such as integrating disruptive District 75 special education students are among those that need resolving.
That was one of the takeaways from last night’s first community meeting at PS 13, 557 Pennsylvania Avenue, on the school. City Council Member Rafael Espinal (Cypress Hills, Bushwick, City Line, Oceanhill-Brownsville, East New York) one of the proposal’s strongest advocates, led the meeting with more than a dozen elected officials, community advocates, teachers and parents weighing in on the school.
“The project is part of the East New York Rezoning process. We’ve worked together and advocated to have a brand new school included because of the increased density that will come into the neighborhood and because of the current needs that we have,” said Espinal. “Cypress Hill and East New York have historically had issues will overcrowding but I think this is a great opportunity to get a brand new building into our neighborhood. Our schools are falling apart, some classrooms don’t have air conditioning, some classrooms don’t have heat and those aren’t good conditions for our children or our teachers to work in.”
The proposed PS/IS Pre-k thru 8th grade school will be constructed on a portion of the City-owned Dinsmore Chestnut site, on the block bounded by Atlantic Avenue, Logan Street, Dinsmore Place and Chestnut Street. The building will include art and music rooms, a cafeteria, a gymnatorium and exercise room, science labs, library, an outside playground and other amenities and will be fully wheelchair accessible and air-conditioned. Espinal will also partially fund a greenhouse as part of the school.
At the meeting, the City’s School Construction Authority (SCA) representative Tamar Smith was only able to present a broad vision of the city’s plan for the school. One piece of definitive information she was able to provide was that the entrance to the building would be on the Dinsmore Place side. According to her, she could not go over specifics of the building and how it would look in the end because the final design has not been finalized, and went on to say, “We [SCA] build it and they [Department of Education] fills it.”
“I understand what the top concerns are, but I know that there will be many more. People are concerned about how this will benefit the community. I think that in summary that is everything. People come at that from different levels: they want to know that it will serve their children, they want to know that it will reflect their needs. Every comment that’s made ultimately comes down to that,” said Smith, after listening to the crowds’ concerns.
May residents had questions specific questions about the makeup of the school and Smith said those were questions for the Department of Education. The DOE had no representatives at the meeting.
The school will also include a District 75 program, or special education program and will sit next to a future affordable housing project of approximately 200 units. There is also a future housing project that will sit on the block across the street on Chestnut Street with another estimated 900 units.
The idea of having District 75 students in the same school as other students from the community brought up many concerns about curriculum and educational programming. In addition, many attendees fear that the affordable housing residents next door will take precedent over the needs of the current student population’s needs.
District 19 School Superintendent Dr. Thomas McByrde, who attended the meeting, said the District Leadership Team (DLT) would make those decisions they would not be finalized until the building was fully completed. The DLT, according to the DOE website, reviews Comprehensive Educational Plans for schools in their districts and develop district-wide plans. They also provide guidance and assistance to School Leadership Teams. Representatives for the team are chosen by their respective leadership groups and include the Borough High School Federation and the District President’ Council.
“I am always excited to provide excellent programming for our kids, and as we work out the nuances and logistics to as what it will look like, people will become more confident and comfortable,” said Dr. McBryde.
Many attendees also cited previous new school buildings in which promises were made to the community and parents and in the end the school became a charter school or was given to a different district. In particular, back in 2012, a new school building was built on Elton Street and was promised by city-officials to be a new trade high school for the community but eventually went to the Young Writers Academy, who were relocated from Williamsburg to East New York, according to Community Board 5 District Manager Melinda Perkins.
“The overall project [concerning the city-owned property] was turned down by the community. This was not something that, as it was presented, the community was in favor of, our community board [CB5] actually turned it down as well as the Borough Board. I think there is going to be an ongoing conversation about the things that we’re not satisfied with as a community as a whole for each project that comes about not just the school but the housing. The project is here and we have to monitor it, police it and make sure it has the things we need,” said Perkins.
At the moment community members, parents, teachers and advocates can send their concerns, fears and comments to Community Board 5 and also to the New York City School Construction Authority by email at [email protected]; or mail to New York City School Construction Authority, 30-30 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, New York 11101. Attention: Ross J. Holden until February 17 when the Public Comment Period on the proposal closes. The next public hearing is expected to be held on January 17 or 18 at P.S. 171, with plans not finalized yet.
The expected occupancy date for the school is the fall of 2020.