Thursday, April 26, 2007

CU secondary school will move to P.S. 125 - Parents Association Pres. in Agreement; Some Are Skeptical

CU secondary school will move to P.S. 125
Parents Association Pres. in Agreement; Some Are Skeptical

By Anna Phillips
Issue date: 4/26/07 Section: News

School administrators, parents, teachers, and Department of Education officials have come to a consensus which will result in Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering being housed at P.S. 125 for the next three years.

Beginning in the 2007-08 school year, 81 rising sixth graders who have already applied and been accepted to the magnet school will occupy currently unused classrooms in P.S. 125, a public elementary school currently housing first through sixth grades. According to a letter from Garth Harries, Department of Education officer of new schools, to the P.S. 125 parent-teacher association, P.S. 125 is currently significantly underutilized. Only 22 of the school's 42 classrooms are being used to hold classes this year.

Columbia Secondary, which will be run collaboratively by the DOE and the University, will start by occupying part of the fifth floor beginning this fall. As enrollment grows, the secondary school will occupy more space in the building. By the end of three years-the time Columbia says it will need to build the school's permanent home at 125th Street and Broadway in the University's proposed Manhattanville expansion zone-the magnet will cover the entire fifth floor, as well as five classrooms on the fourth floor. During this time, P.S. 125 is also expected to grow to occupy 29 classrooms, leaving four to be used for special instruction and staff offices.

When DOE first began looking for a temporary location for the magnet school, it selected P.S. 36, an early childhood school located at 122nd Street and Morningside Drive, one block south of P.S. 125. Parents quickly pressured officials to squelch the idea, protesting that the school was already overcrowded and arguing that it was it was inappropriate to mix middle school students with P.S. 36's young population.

At P.S. 125, as Parents' Association president Hyacinth Myers, is ready to point out, the situation is quite different."We have the space," said Myers, who also has children at P.S. 36 and is active in the Parent Association there. "I know we have preconceived notions about Columbia, but this is a public school with Columbia affiliations. We have a partnership here that could help our children try to succeed."

At a PA meeting Wednesday night, Myers stood outside the room, hoping more parents would show up. What she calls "the committed ten" were there-a collection of parents with several years of consistent involvement in the PA-but word of the magnet school's plans had reached few others.

"Not too many parents know about Columbia moving in here," PA member Zenola Turner said. "If the parents knew, they would be here like at P.S. 36, because those are the same parents."

Those aware of the plans expressed skepticism about Columbia mixed with optimism for what the magnet school could provide. Many PA members said they were concerned that Columbia would move in and "take over" or simply not add anything to the school's resources.

Ralphell Davis, a mother of a 12 year-old and two 10 year-old twins, said she wouldn't oppose the addition of the magnet school as long as Columbia contributed to P.S. 125. "I think it would be helpful if they would come in here and help us build on our math and reading skills," she said.

Other parents noted that the school's pool isn't functioning, there isn't an art program, and there's no regular physical education program in a district with high levels of childhood obesity and diabetes. "I'm not exactly opposed to it [the magnet school's move], but if they come in here, what are they going to do for us?" asked Jeffrey Quarles, the father of an 8 year-old at P.S. 125.

Monique Bourgeois, the mother of 8 year-old twins, pointed out that P.S. 125 belongs to the DOE. "I don't think they're [the DOE] obligated to do something for us," she said. "I'm looking at it from the viewpoint that the space is here and it needs to be occupied."

PA members also criticized the magnet school itself, expressing concern that a new population of high-achieving students separated from the others would give the current middle school students a sense of inferiority. Currently, the DOE has designated P.S. 125 as a "Need of Improvement" school, meaning that math and reading test score levels do not meet No Child Left Behind requirements. Several parents said they found the idea of a magnet school attractive, but worried that while it would give priority to local students, its academic requirements would be beyond P.S. 125's students.

"Harlem is on the rise, people are moving here, but this change has to be for us and not just the people who are coming here," Myers said. "Of course I will apply [to the magnet school] but will my baby qualify? That is the question," she said.According to Donna Conwell, who works in the P.S. 125 library and whose children attended P.S. 36 and 125, the middle school's population has been decreasing each year. Conwell placed the school's population in 1984 at around 1,000 students. Now, the DOE puts the figure at 428.

With a decrease in population has come a marked decrease in parental involvement and a propensity for parents in district five to send their children to better-ranked schools in districts two and three.

"People don't believe in change," Myers said. "We have been so conditioned to believe that public schools can't work."

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