February 10, 2007 / Park Slope / Perspective / PS … I Love You

The Ghosts of John Jay

for The Brooklyn Paper
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La Bruschetta Pizza-Pasta restaurant on Seventh Avenue hung an odd sign on the door the other day: “No students allowed on the premises between 11 am and 5 pm on school days.”

No students allowed? At a pizzeria across the street from a school packed with their best customers: teenagers?

The owner told me she is willing to give up those student customers — students from the three schools that now inhabit the John Jay HS building — because they’re loud, vulgar and not big spenders (one kid buys a slice while his 10 pals hang out).

John Jay HS is gone — replaced by the Secondary School for Law, the Secondary School for Research and the Secondary School for Journalism — but as the pizzeria’s sign shows, the notoriously bad school’s stigma still casts a shadow over Seventh Avenue. The neighborhood’s sentiment toward the school and the students — you are not part of our neighborhood — remains.

Certainly, those students are not Park Slope residents; at dismissal time, they don’t melt into the surrounding blocks, but flow like a river to the subway, where they are met by police officers posted there to keep the peace.

Park Slope has been waiting for the schools in the building to improve. Law, Journalism and Research are failing to draw in local teens.

The schools are slowly improving, and at least one of the three has been getting better reviews from parents, staff and the school-watching website, But better is not good enough. And so the Park Slope kids go to other schools that have solid tests scores and more appealing programs.

It might help to take out programs that are downright unappealing. The program that tips the scales in the “I’m-not-sending-my-kid-there” direction is the Region 8 Suspension Center for high school students. Suspension Centers are run like regular schools, with required classes and certified teachers, but the student body comprises kids who have not merely mouthed off or littered, but done something serious enough to warrant a removal from their high school.

Besides that, the Department of Education should work on its PR. John Jay is like a tree falling in an otherwise empty forest: If a good thing happens inside the building, but no one in the outside community is told about it, did it really happen?

Last week, students at the School for Research had an opening for a photo-essay exhibition that was terrific. The students studied the gentrification of Park Slope and the development of Coney Island and the Atlantic Yards. They took photos, interviewed residents and community leaders, and reached their own conclusions about the impact of change on the neighborhoods. The work that the kids did — and its quality — was inspiring.

The show needs to be hung in a local coffee shop, or in the lobby of PS 321, so that parents there can see that there is good work being done behind the closed doors of the hulking building.

The goal, of course, is for John Jay to become an educational center that works for the people who live near it, rather than a dumping ground for the system’s worst students with only pockets of high-quality education.

If Park Slope is ever going to embrace the school, the school needs to embrace Park Slope — but it also needs to demonstrate that it offers an alternative to Stuyvesant or Brooklyn Tech, where so many Park Slope parents send their public school kids, despite the distance.

Once that happens, the attitude that the school is not serving our neighborhood will change, and the sign in the pizza parlor will surely come down.

The Kitchen Sink

Did you go to St. Saviour Elementary School 50 years ago? The school is throwing a fundraiser on March 9 at the Grand Prospect Hall to honor students who remember when the new school was built on Eighth Avenue. Tickets are $100. But seeing people you haven’t seen in half-a-century? Priceless. …

The Third Street playground in Prospect Park will be closing this spring for restorations. Finally, the city has released $500,000 so the Prospect Park Alliance can fix to the water drainage issues that turn the park into a lake. ... The Park Slope Civic Council is looking for a web designer. If you think you’re qualified (or to find out what the qualifications are), give them a call. …

The Montauk Club has elected art historian David Carter to its board of directors. And he started off with a Truman Capote reading. Capote imitator Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t attend, but Carter served notice that the stodgy old club was again open for business. …

Grand Army Plaza will soon be all aglow. The state has allocated $500,000 to complete improvements to the historic lighting around the area. …

Ran into our pal, Councilman Bill DeBlasio, again at the Tea Lounge on Seventh Avenue. He rebuffed our suggestion that he can’t wait until Hillary Clinton becomes president so he can become a big mucky-muck in DC. Almost on cue, a constituent came over and said, “We need Bill fighting for us here.” Apparently, she forgot about term limits!

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