PS 8 parents demand a middle school in the Heights

The Brooklyn Paper
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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.

Updated 5:23 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

blofeld of boerum hill from boerum says:
No space available anywhere around for that. Going to take space to create a Heights crew school somewhere else? why don't they go to closest and turn it around like Seth, parents, kids and staff and teachers did at PS 8?
March 17, 2011, 9:03 am
PS 8 parent from Fort Greene says:
Well, the PS 8 community did that with Arts & Letters--somewhere around 18 kids from last year's 5th grade went there, if not more. Arts & Letters responded by decreasing the size of the middle school and opening its own elementary school. So A&L isn't really an option anymore for PS 8 families, which is one of the things that has brought this issue to the forefront. There really aren't any Dist. 13 schools in downtown Brooklyn except for the all-girls school.
March 17, 2011, 9:20 am
jon from south brooklyn says:
the empty commerical space at One Brooklyn Bridge Park (aka the Furman Street condos) would be a great interim space for a middle school.
March 17, 2011, 9:21 am
Tracey from East Flatbush says:
PS 8 parents should check out The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies (BCS). It's in District 15, but enrollment is borough-wide. It's the upper school for BNS, but most BNS families send their kids to other district 15 middle schools. It's a great middle school.
March 17, 2011, 9:26 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
the principal of the school is hitting up all the families for $1,000. suck it.
March 17, 2011, 10 am
cindy from clinton hill says:
Try the School for International Studies on Court and Baltic. It is D15 but has room in the middle school, which usually scores an A on the report card. Great teachers. Great kids.
March 17, 2011, 8 pm
a solution from brooklyn Heights says:
The watchtower has numerous buildings for sale. They have been used as teaching facilities. Many have gyms and cafeterias. The building that just jumps out is on the corner of Orange and the non-water side of Columbia Heights. L shaped modern building with large courtyard on Columbia Heights side. Could have been a middle school and an elementary school. Courtyard would have made great play area and it has been meticulously maintained. Instead the city built a god awful extension which is way too big for the block. Makes no sense and yes there are plenty of buildings owned by the Watch Tower.
March 18, 2011, 6:07 pm
PJBloch, Esq. from Brooklyn Heights says:
I am amazed that such an affluent neighborhood, full of NYC elites, lawyers, doctors, bankers, accountants, journalists, artists, etc. cannot impress upon the relevant politicians, the importance of such a fundamental issue as a need of an excellent public middle school for their offspring. Mr. Biviano: this should be a central issue of your future candidacy, which we all know is coming up again! Can you say imminent domain?
March 29, 2011, 3:25 pm

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