City closes W’burg’s PS 19; Community calls it a ‘travesty’

A Department of Education panel voted 9–4 to close the Roberto Clemente School during a highly charged five-hour meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School on Thursday night, ending the run of a primary school that served Williamsburg’s Latino population for generations.

Paymon Rouhanifard, of the Department of Education, justified the panel’s decision to shutter the S. Third Street elementary because it was the “lowest ranking school in the entire city,” but said when a new school opens in the building it will keep the Roberto Clemente name because “it’s been around so long and the community feels connected to the school.”

But neighborhood leaders called the vote a “travesty” and urged the city to take the 378-child school off its closure list.

“The community needs to be a partner to improve our city’s schools instead of being treated like pawns,” said Community Board 1 member Esteban Duran.

The struggling S. Third Street school had a remarkably high attendance rating of 94 percent, but received an “F” grade in its 2010-2011 school progress report. Only one in five students scored proficient levels in reading comprehension and math, city statistics show.

Parents and teachers argued that the Department of Education has not provided enough support for the school to succeed, pointing to the dearth math and science teachers and the fact there is no librarian.

But they couldn’t sway city officials, who ruled that PS 19 will eliminate its kindergarten, first, and second grade classes over the next three years. Starting in 2013, the new school will start bringing in students.

Some Williamsburg parents say the city’s plan leaves their preteens in limbo.

“My third-grade son will be forced to stay in a terrible school,” said PS 19 parent Monica Batista, one of 40 who attended the hearing.

Community advocates say the Department of Education should get more input from parents before opening a new school at Roberto Clemente and add a dual-language program for English- and Spanish-speaking youngsters.

“From a cultural standpoint, we can only hope that the administration has the cognizance of mind to understand the importance that the school’s name holds for this community,” said Williamsburg community leader Jason Otano. “Future iterations of P.S. 19 should continue to pay homage to this great Latino humanitarian.”

— with Kate Briquelet