Locals: Vinegar Hill school rezoning is a black and white issue

Tonight: Have your say on PS 8, PS 307 school rezoning
Photo by Jason Speakman

The city is rushing headfirst into a plan to ease overcrowding at a mostly white elementary school in Brooklyn Heights by sending more local kids to a largely black school in Vinegar Hill next year without stopping to consider how it will impact the community bearing most of the burden, say residents of the tiny waterfront nabe.

“You’ve got a plan that only considers half of this community, and once again the half that’s not considered is the black half,” said Rev. Mark V. C. Taylor, a pastor at Vinegar Hill’s Church of the Open Door, at a town-hall meeting on the rezoning on Wednesday.

The education department announced at the beginning of the month that it plans to reduce the bloated student body at PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights — which currently has around 200 more kids than it is supposed to — by redrawing local school zone borders to send future students from Dumbo and small parts of Downtown and the Navy Yard to PS 307 — which serves kids from the Farrugut public housing buildings and has room for at least 300 more youngsters.

PS 307 currently takes in around 17 kindergarten kids a year, which will jump to between 115 and 120 under the new zoning, according to department projections. The change will also dramatically alter the school’s demographics — 90 percent of current students are minorities, which will drop to 55–65 percent, per the forecasts.

But the city is only giving residents until the end of the month to offer their opinion to the local community education council before it votes on the scheme, which will come into effect next year. And PS 307 parents say that while they understand PS 8 is feeling squashed right now, they need way more time to examine how the changes will affect their own school — as does the city.

“This process needs to be moved back at least a year,” said Faraji Hannah-Jones, who was speaking on behalf of a PS 307 parent. “Push this process back and consider the needs of the entire Downtown community.”

Residents are also questioning why the department has singled out PS 307 to bear the full load of the rezoning instead of spreading the impact amongst other under-capacity schools in the same district, like Downtown’s PS 287, which has room for around 600 students but only 193 students currently enrolled, according to city data.

Borderline: The new school zones the city is proposing for PS 8 and PS 307. The pick area shows the area PS 307 currently serves.
Department of Education

“There’s adequate space in District 13 — there’s space in this school, there’s space in 287, there’s space in 67, there’s space in 46,” said Ed Brown, a member of the local community education council. “There’s something else going on here.”

That something, according to locals, is that PS 307 is a successful school, while others in the area are struggling.

Recently retired principal and former Farragut Houses resident Roberta Davenport turned her community’s once-blighted educational institution around after taking over in 2003, despite years of neglect from city, state, and federal officials, said Taylor. Now the city threatens to disrupt all that hard work with what he described as “a P8-centric plan.”

“The new principal will not have the chance to continue to build on Ms. Davenport’s skills and will not have a chance to implement her own vision, it seems to us, if this spurious plan, which seemed to come out of nowhere, goes into effect,” said Taylor.

The education department will host another town-hall meeting on the rezoning at PS 8 on Monday Sept. 21.

PS 8 [37 Hicks St. between Poplar and Middagh streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 834–6740]. Sept. 21 at 6:30 pm.

Reach reporter Harry MacCormack at hmaccormac[email protected]local.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @HMacBKPaper.
Speak up: Community Education Council member and district 13 parent Ed Brown asked why PS 307 is bearing the burden of a neighborhood school rezoning.
Community News Group / Harry MacCormack