Look Out Ahead: Too Many Kids, Too Few Schools

by - May 5, 2010 at 12:35 pm -

A recent rally protesting school overcrowding at City Hall.

A recent rally protesting school overcrowding at City Hall.

Editor’s Note: This is a monthly column by Rebecca Levey about raising children on the Upper West Side.

By Rebecca Levey
Of all the crazy and neurotic exploits that New York City parents go through, none is more fraught with insecurity, fear and downright competitiveness than the school process. For a few years now nursery school admissions captured the imagination of the media. Then everyone’s gaze turned to the ridiculous private school admissions with the test prep for four year-olds and parents duking it out on internet message boards dividing schools into imaginary “tiers” and deciphering college exmissions statistics as if they were tarot cards wielding clues to a four year-old’s future. This year the hurricane of hysteria has settled firmly on the public schools – and the Upper West Side is the eye of the storm.

Every person living on the Upper West Side could’ve told you this was coming. There are more strollers hogging the sidewalks, more high chairs in even the fanciest restaurants and probably more scooters per person than cars. But, most of all it stands to reason that a crush of nursery school admissions a few years ago would lead to surge of kindergartners (and yes that will lead to a huge middle school problem just a few years from now.) The year my daughters entered kindergarten there was a lottery at all of these coveted schools for out-of-zone students. Only three years later there is a waitlist at my daughters’ school that is over 100 children long – and it’s all for in-zone kids. It seems unbelievable that children living across the street from a school could be number 102 on a waitlist for that same school.

But this is the situation now facing Upper West Side parents. Even if your child lands a spot at your school, or places into a Gifted and Talented program – or even if you don’t have a child at all – this school situation affects you. Good schools are a draw for families, they keep neighborhoods (and real estate prices) stable, they are a centerpiece of a community and when people start to leave because they cannot find a place for their children to go to school then an entire neighborhood can start to unravel.

Right now Helen Rosenthal and Community Board 7 are leading a charge to demand that Extell build a school on the site of the development of Riverside Center (off of West End Avenue between 59th and 61st Streets) where they are planning to put up 5 new buildings. FIVE! We saw what the Trump Buildings did to the school situation in the lower part of the Upper West Side; imagine five more buildings worth of kids. What does Community Board 7 want? They want Extell to build the school before building the residential buildings, and build it bigger.

Of course this new school will only alleviate some of the problem – after all there are going to be five new buildings. So what is the solution for the overcrowding and surge in demand in the rest of the district? What can be done now? I’m going to get on my virtual soapbox for a second and say – get involved. Go to Community Board 7 meetings. Contact Scott Stringer’s office and Gale Brewer’s office, and don’t forget about your State Assembly Members too. If you’ve got ideas let us know, and let your local politicians know too.

After all, we Upper West Siders have a long history of good old-fashioned political activism to live up to. It’s time to put all of this stereotyped pushy parenting to good use and push for the schools our kids, and our neighborhood, deserves.

Read all about the overcrowding problem here, and the proposed Extell development here.

Rebecca Levey is a freelance writer and mother of twin girls. She lives, works, parents and tries to maintain her sense of humor on the Upper West Side.  You can follow her travels and adventures at  www.beccarama.com. Read all of her columns for the Westside Independent here.

(flickr photo by Gotham Schools)

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