Thursday, December 07, 2006

Parents, DOE Clash At Hearing on P.S. 36 - Secondary School Plan Debated at CB9M

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Parents, DOE Clash At Hearing on P.S. 36
Secondary School Plan Debated at CB9M
By Erin Durkin
Issue date: 12/7/06 Section: News

Parents clashed with representatives of the Department of Education at a hearing Wednesday night over the department's plan to locate the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering at P.S. 36.

The secondary school, a public magnet which will be run collaboratively by DOE and Columbia, is slated to open next fall. It will eventually be housed in its own building on the University's proposed Manhattanville campus. Until that building is ready, DOE has proposed putting the school at P.S. 36, an early childhood school on Morningside Drive. Parents have strenuously objected to the plan, saying that mixing middle school students with P.S. 36's young population is unsafe and will overcrowd the school.

Wednesday's hearing, held by Community Board 9, began on a contentious note as parent Cedric Flemming rose to demand concrete information. "Don't snowball us," he said, "Let us know what the deal is so we know what to do with our children. ... If there's nothing we can do to stop it, I'll go home."

As Jemina Bernard of the DOE's new schools office said that DOE was still evaluating the feasibility of the plan, Flemming said, "Same bullshit," and left the meeting.

"I've seen plenty of information and documentation to prove that putting the school there will hurt the school," said parent Christina Heath. "Everybody is saying we don't want it. Why would you still go ahead with it?"

Bernard said that DOE felt it was important to open the school before its permanent building was ready, and that P.S. 36 was the only feasible location they had found. "The demand for this kind of high quality, high caliber [school] starting in the sixth grade was so high that we thought it in the best interest of this community to open the school sooner rather than later."

But attendees continued to criticize what they perceived as the department's indifference to their feelings on the issue. "If a parent says to you that they don't want their children with older children in a school that was designed to be on a community model, and that it will destroy the work that has already been done, that has to be factored into the equation somehow," said CB9 member Dr. Vicky Gholson, "Parents want to expand the existing school. ... Why is the Department of Education not expanding the existing school?"

"I probably made mistakes in not reaching out to the community as soon as I should have," said the secondary school's principal Jose Maldonado. "I see the combination of the sixth and seventh graders with the little kids as having possibly very positive effects," he said, adding that he hoped to send his own 2 year old to P.S. 36.

Columbia declined to attend the meeting. Provost Alan Brinkley wrote in an e-mail to CB9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc that "we feel it inappropriate for us to participate in a discussion of this decision, to which we were not a party and over which we have no authority."

University President Lee Bollinger said in an interview earlier this week that despite the dispute over the site, he was still pleased about Columbia's involvement in the project. "There are bound to be controversies," he said. "I take the view that if you have a fundamentally good idea, over time you will work through all these things and you will end up with a better world. So I don't regret for a second agreeing to work with the city on this."

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