PS 8 parents demand a middle school in the Heights

PS 8 parents demand a middle school in the Heights
Community Newspaper Group / Laura Gottesdiener

Parents at Brooklyn Heights’ now-popular PS 8 elementary school are demanding that the city expand its program to include a middle school — and they say the neighborhood’s very survival depends on it.

The 165-year-old Hicks Street school was once so disconnected from its affluent surroundings that it could house grades K through 8 — though the intermediate grades were eliminated in 2004 as the school gained enrollment under Principal Seth Phillips.

In fact, the building would not be able to contain even its current K-5 program without a three-story annex that will be completed in time for September’s first day of school.

But the school’s popularity has come at a cost: After “graduating,” students have no public middle school choices in the neighborhood, or in nearby DUMBO, where a small middle school on Dock Street is still years away.

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

The Department of Education admits there’s a problem.

“The district is not great, quality-wise, for families,” said agency spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, referring to the limited middle school choices, which will grow to include Fort Greene Prep and an expanded Community Roots charter school in Prospect Heights.

But that’s not good enough for PS 8 parents who live in Brooklyn Heights.

“There are no options,” said Michelle Thaler, whose daughter is in third grade. “People are moving to another district because they have kids in fourth or fifth grade and there’s nothing for them to do.”

Others think the problem is even more dire.

“Parents are frantic,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “The big threat is that people will flee the neighborhood all together.”

Indeed, some parents have even uprooted their families to increase school options.

“I know at least six families just this year that are moving to the suburbs or another district in Brooklyn,” said Doug Biviano, a member of the PTA with three children at PS 8.

The school’s parent-teacher association voted earlier this year to demand that the administration submit a formal application for an expansion this year, and Phillips has indicated that he supports the idea.

“You don’t want to alienate other middle schools, [but] things have not worked out the way I think anyone has envisioned,” said Phillips, whose North Heights building currently contains 550 students.

Insiders have said that Phillips’s team would oversees the sixth-through-eighth program, though the classrooms would likely be at another location.

“The hardest thing will be finding a location, not getting Seth to approve the idea,” said one parent, who requested anonymity.

But Stanton, for one, believes that a solution must be found — and quick — to save the school and its neighborhood.

“It used to be that if Brooklyn Heights families couldn’t afford private school, they would move to the suburbs when the kids were 5,” she said. “Around 2000, a handful of Brooklyn Heights mothers started saying that they were going to try PS 8.”

And now, they’re victims of the school’s success.

Parent Michelle Thaler, here with her daughter Alma, supports expanding PS 8 to include a middle school.
Community Newspaper Group / Laura Gottesdiener