By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — More than 30 parents and supporters spoke out passionately in favor of expanding a booming Brooklyn Heights elementary school by adding a middle school annex at the George Westinghouse site in Downtown Brooklyn.
About seven Westinghouse and Polytechnic High School parents spoke just as fervently against the P.S. 8 middle school plan, at a Department of Education (DOE) hearing held Monday night in the auditorium at Westinghouse.
P.S. 8, on Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, has become hugely popular under Principal Seth Phillips, and is operating at 156 percent capacity. Local families, desperate to stay in the neighborhood, have been working for years to add a middle school – and the Westinghouse site, just five blocks away, is operating at only 79 percent capacity.
Besides Westinghouse — officially named the George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School — two other schools share the building: City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology and a special education school, 75K369.
Not a Takeover
Principal Phillips testified Monday that the new middle school “is a very important piece” for the long-term viability of P.S. 8, and reached out to wary parents from the three high schools who said that they had been left out of the loop by DOE.
“Co-location is not easy,” he said. “Today’s reality is that if there is spare room somewhere DOE seeks to fill it. We feel we’re a good neighbor. We’re not coming to take over the building, we’re coming to be part of the community.
“We only met last week but I came away feeling positive that the school leaders will work for the benefit of all the schools,” Phillips said. “I spent a long time with the DOE looking for a good place for P.S. 8. This one is in our community. The buildings across the street are zoned for P.S. 8. We are vested in this community, and we’ll try to support Westinghouse as a whole, not just P.S. 8.”
Sherry Homan, mother of three, said her child with cancer received crucial support at P.S. 8. “He needed collaborative team teaching, and Principal Phillips found space. P.S. 8 was about inclusion, patience and generosity. The teachers were understanding, kind and funny.” She said that her son went from a child who refused to go to school to a child eager to learn. “All children are welcome and supported at P.S. 8. I want to thank Westinghouse, City Polytechnic and 75K369 for making room for us.”
“The expansion into a middle school will mean that students from P.S. 8 will be able to continue their education at a local, quality public school,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin. Levin, along with State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Joan Millman, has been working with P.S. 8 parents for an expansion of the school.
Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association and a longtime P.S. 8 supporter, said that a nearby middle school would help insure that young families stay in the neighborhood.
Christina Soto, parent of two kids and co-president of P.S. 8’s PTA, spoke from the perspective of the daughter of a teacher and firefighter who both worked in Downtown Brooklyn. “I don’t think a child should have to pray that the lottery works out in their favor,” she said. “More children will remain in the neighborhood. Retaining these children will have a lasting benefit for the community.”
But Khem Irby, first vice president of the District 13 Community Education Council (CEC), spoke against the move. “I do not support this co-location. I believe every school should have its own building. I hear everyone talking about being a good neighbor. A neighbor doesn’t live in your house. The PTAs did not go on the walk through. You don’t have anyone walk through your house and say, ‘I want the living room.’ That has to be rectified, it has to be inclusive.”
Though Ms. Irby is not a Westinghouse or City-Poly parent, she agreed with those parents who cautioned P.S. 8 parents about mixing middle school kids with high school students. “High school students might be having sex in the hallways,” she warned. “It happened at 287.” It is not clear what incident she was referring to.
Irby added that DOE was deliberately shrinking Westinghouse by 200 students to fit in the P.S. 8 middle school. “That’s enrollment and money that won’t go to Westinghouse.”
“Westinghouse in the future is going to get scratched out,” Israel Rosario told the Brooklyn Eagle. ”It’s a vocational high school. We’re not getting the chance we need.”
Insiders, however, said that the number of Westinghouse students was being reduced in an attempt to strengthen the poorly-performing school.
DOE’s EIS (Educational Impact Statement) says the enrollment decrease is a "strategic" reduction with the goal of focusing support on a smaller number of students to improve student achievement, particularly with struggling students and students with disabilities. The school may scale back special programs and initiatives proportionally.
The number of students at City Poly is scheduled to increase next year as part of the school’s planned roll out.
If approved by the Mayor’s Panel on Educational Policy on Thursday, the new middle school would serve kids in the sixth through eighth grades.