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Middle march! PS 8 to add MS to its offerings • Brooklyn Paper

Middle march! PS 8 to add MS to its offerings

PS 8 on Hicks Street had to build an annex to accommodate its full elementary program. Now, the school will add an off-site middle school.
The Brooklyn Paper / Michael Short

Brooklyn Heights’ much-loved PS 8 will expand to include a middle school under a new city proposal — bringing relief to parents who’ve rallied for a neighborhood option for years.

Under the plan, leaders of the Hicks Street school would retain their K-5 program, but also set up a middle school next year inside Downtown’s George Westinghouse HS several blocks away on Johnson Street. The middle school would open next year and accommodate 280 students by 2014.

“The expansion solidifies PS 8 as a whole, because the big question for parents was always, ‘Where do the kids go next?’ ” said PS 8 principal Seth Phillips, whose school has become so popular that it not only had to eliminate the original sixth through eighth grades in 2004, and built a three-story annex just to fit all 600 elementary students.

Parents and local officials have clamored for a PS 8 middle school all year — warning that families would leave the Heights if there continued to be too few good middle school options.

The only other district middle schools are in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill — and many of those schools received C’s or D’s on their most-recent report cards.

“I worry a lot about middle school,” said Liz Pitofsky, who has two children at PS 8, where she is co-president of the school’s PTA. “I know families whose kids didn’t get in anywhere last year. It’s tough if private school is not an option.”

PS 8’s enrollment has increased by 29 percent since 2006, bringing it almost to capacity. Meanwhile, the Westinghouse building is only at 79 percent capacity, which would swell to 90 percent with the PS 8 expansion, according to the Department of Education.

Phillips and others said that a new sixth-through-eighth program — even off-site — would allow PS 8 to continue its vision of building a tight-knit community.

“At the end of the day, this is about giving children a great education within walking distance,” said Lisa Kopel, a former PTA president whose son attends private middle school because existing public school choices didn’t fit his needs.

The expansion isn’t guaranteed. The Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public hearing in the coming weeks and likely vote on it in March.

But parents were ecstatic at the prospect of staying at PS 8 a while longer.

“PS 8 is a place that our children already know and love,” said Cristina Soto, the PTA’s co-president who also has two children at the school. “Having them continue in that nurturing environment is a relief — regardless of what the other options are.”

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

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