New kids in school: Applications spike at rezoned Vinegar Hill elementary

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

They want to keep it old school.

Kindergarten applications for a struggling elementary school next to a Vinegar Hill public housing complex have spiked since the city controversially expanded the area it serves to include one of Brooklyn’s wealthiest neighborhoods, but parent leaders warned the new moms and dads from trying to turn the institution into a literal playground for the rich.

“We don’t need any galloping knights coming here and trying to change it to an image that it’s not,” said PS 307 parent teacher association co-president Benjamin Greene to the crowd of local parents, and school and education officials at a meeting intended to help ease the integration on Thursday night.

PS 307, which enrolled just 17 kids for kindergarten last year, has already sent out 97 offer letters for this year’s class since the city in January expanded its school zone from part of the Farragut Houses — plus any kids who come in via a science and math magnet program — to encompass all of Vinegar Hill, Dumbo, and the Navy Yard, principal Stephanie Carroll announced.

A Department of Education spokesman later said those offers were for pre-kindergarten, however, and it had sent out 66 kindergarten offers.

Either way, it isn’t entirely clear who the new kids are — Carroll said she can’t give enrollment figures yet, and the department rep says it can’t reveal applicants’ backgrounds until everyone has selected a school.

But the rezoning is expected to dramatically alter the school’s demographics — the student body will drop from 90 percent minorities to around 55–65 percent, education officials predict.

The expansion was intended to ease the squeeze on overcrowded PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, but education officials and pols argued desegregating PS 307 and filling more of its seats — it currently has 488 students, but space for 703 — would be a boon for its pupils, too.

Many local families weren’t convinced, though, fearing wealthy, white families would push out the community that has studied at and shaped the York Street school for decades.

Greene said he is happy to work with the new cohort, but urged those parents to respect the school’s existing character and the students who live in the New York City Housing Authority buildings next door.

“We want to make sure PS 307 is not going to be this Fortune 500 school in two or three years,” he said. “We’re not going to push out our NYCHA parents.”

But Carroll and district superintendent Barbara Freeman said they didn’t think the old families had anything to fear from the new ones, and most of the parents in attendance agreed that they must work together to ensure nobody gets knocked back when the new students start school in the fall.

Carroll unveiled several programs the school has instated to help bring families from all of the neighborhoods together — including opportunities for first graders from PS 307 and PS 8 to visit each other to see how the other half lives, and monthly “PS 307 and Me” events where 2- and 3-year-olds and their guardians can get familiar with the elementary school.

And at least one future PS 307 parent says he and his daughter can’t wait to be a part of the school — just as it is.

“We’re very impressed with the school and we’re impressed with the principal,” said Jonathan Poplack, who is moving to Brooklyn Heights from Manhattan and sending his daughter to pre-kindergarten at PS 307.

The rezoning has also had an impact on PS 8, its principal reported. The school had to put dozens of prospective kindergartners on its wait list in 2015, but only one unlucky young scholar for this coming school year.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill