'Huge' turnout for annual rite of spring
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Families packed Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights on Saturday for the annual P.S. 8 Paddlewheeler Festival.
A yearly rite of spring for ten years running, the festival raises much-needed funds for the growing school, and brings the community together for carnival rides, hair painting – and the ever-popular Dunk-the-Principal event, in which Principal Seth Phillips gets soaked.
“It’s really hilarious,” said mom Liz Pitofsky, co-president of the PTA with Cristina Soto. “The kids get so excited. Everybody lines up to see him get dunked. Seth is such a great sport.”
Pitofsky said this year’s turnout for the Paddlewheeler was “huge.”
“We’ve been at the school for five years, and this year there were more people than ever. We look forward to the festival all year,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for the families to get together. We work so hard to fundraise all year, so it’s nice to have such a sweet community event, and the kids have such a great time.”
Friends Maddie and Chichi, both second-graders at P.S. 8, were supersonically excited about getting their faces and hair colored, and about going to P.S. 8.
“P.S. 8 is great and the fair is really fun. This is the best moment of my life!” declared Maddie, who lives in Brooklyn Heights. “I’m really excited and I’m eating cotton candy!”
Chichi, a resident of DUMBO, also declared her love for P.S. 8 and listed her favorite teachers: Ms. Davis, Ms. Long, Ms. Brown and Mr. Jensen. “We are eating a lot of cotton candy,” she agreed. “We shoved three cotton candy sticks in our face!”
Getting dunked is all part of the game for Principal Phillips, who is also celebrating his tenth year at P.S. 8. By now the story of his success in turning around the once-failing school is legend. When Phillips arrived at P.S. 8 in 2003, enrollment had dipped down to 245 students. By 2011 it had soared to 600, and, with a new middle school in Downtown Brooklyn this year, P.S./M.S. 8 now serves 712 kids.
As successful as P.S./M.S. 8 is, the school’s parents work constantly to raise money to make up for city-wide budget cuts. The PTA pays for core expenses many assume would be covered by the city -- two full teaching positions, a teacher’s aide and substitute teachers. This year they also bought a new and improved math curriculum, and air conditioners for classrooms in the middle school at the old Westinghouse High School in Downtown Brooklyn. The PTA also funds art, music and dance partnerships.
With the new middle school, funding needs have grown, however, and the PTA is coming up short. This year’s goal was $500,000. Before the Paddlewheeler, the PTA had raised only $412,000. Figures for the Paddlewheeler were not yet in, Pitofsky told the Brooklyn Eagle.
While expressing gratitude to the Department of Education for allowing P.S. 8 to expand, “The budgets cuts are frustrating and stressful, and they impact every school in the city,” she said. “I feel like Seth is so incredible at making sure the kids get everything they need, and we’re fortunate to have families that can help with fundraising. But I feel bad for other schools that don’t have the resources. This is a citywide issue -- every year the schools have to do more with less.”