Insider on Controversial School Rezoning: “Middle School Quality Is No. 1 Issue”

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    Controversy over the proposed school rezoning in Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and Vinegar Hill has grown into a national conversation. Tonight, the Department of Education​ will release its official rezoning proposal to the district’s Community Education Council (CEC). The plan aims to increase the size of the zone for P.S. 307 (pictured above) and decrease it for overcrowded P.S. 8.

    But the issues in District 13 encompass more than just these two schools. To get another take, Brownstoner caught up with Rob Underwood — a District 13 parent and CEC member — to hear his perspective on the education needs of the area. No surprise, they’re entangled with the neighborhoods’ new construction.

    Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you care about this school rezoning?
    I am an elected member of CEC13 Brooklyn. I will be one of the people voting on the rezoning. I’m also a P.S./M.S. 282 parent (all CEC13 members are District 13 parents and 282 is a D13 school).

    Where do you stand on the rezoning?
    Right now I think the proposed scenario has some merit and deserves consideration, assuming we are given tonight the same proposal as the draft scenario the DOE has socialized. But as I said in my blog post, my support would be contingent on the DOE giving us clarity on the I.S. 611 (and M.S. 313) plan at Dock Street. [Editor’s note: Underwood is referring to the new 50,000-square-foot middle school wrapped into the development deal for the luxury apartments at 60 Water Street.] I could not consider a yes vote if we don’t have the questions about I.S. 611 resolved. Middle School quality is the No. 1 issue in District 13, more urgent than even the P.S. 8 overcrowding. Nearby District 15 has middle schools like 447, 51, 88, New Voices, as well as the new M.S. 839. District 14 to the north has incredible schools like I.S. 318. The parents of District 13 want a similar breadth and depth of quality middle schools our neighboring districts enjoy.

    But what about people who say that P.S. 307 isn’t a good school?
    It’s notable how many elementary schools in District 13 are quite popular with families in districts such as 16 and 17 to the east of District 13. Schools that struggle to fill seats with in-zone and in-district kids often rely on kids from districts further east in Brooklyn to fill their rosters. Those out-of-district families are seeing something in these schools and District 13 families more broadly are not. There are so many good things happening at 307. Especially exciting is the $1.8 million STEM grant. Given the Mayor’s CS4ALL announcement two weeks ago [editor’s note: CS4ALL is an $81 million initiative to deliver computer science education to every public school student], the groundwork Principal Davenport laid, and local efforts such as CodeBrooklyn led by the Borough President, 307 is extremely well positioned to be one of the first schools in the city to achieve CS4ALL and make coding a big part of its curriculum.

    What’s with M.S.OneBrooklyn?
    M.S.OneBrooklyn — the proposed vision for the school at Atlantic Yards — is not directly related to the rezoning but is also a big topic in District 13. At Atlantic Yards the developer, Forest City Ratner, agreed — was compelled — to build a school along with the arena and the condos/housing. The school is at the B15 site — Dean and 6th. The School Construction Authority is going to build the school and Community Board 8, CEC District 13 and a number of elected officials — Letitia James, Laurie Cumbo, Steve Levin, Brad Lander, and Boro President Eric Adams as well as state elected officials Joanne Simon, Jesse Hamilton, and Velmanette Montgomery — are advocating for a middle school to be the new school at Atlantic Yards. Last week the City Council approved the construction of the school building, though the final decision on what kind of schools (e.g., middle vs. something else such as a high school) has yet to be made. Hence our advocacy for M.S.OneBrooklyn.

    How does development enter into the schools conversation?
    The DOE and City overall need to do a better job of planing for long term residential growth in Brooklyn. That said, we need to also keep an eye on 1) quality, especially middle school quality, 2) integration and diversity and 3) the reason why downtown schools such as 287, 67, and 46 are presently under capacity despite being in an area of large residential growth.

    Underwood is the executive director of a national foundation with the mission to expand computer science education in high schools. He was previously a managment consultant at Deloitte. You can read more of Underwood’s writing on his blog @BROOKLYNROB.

    [Photo: Barbara Eldredge]

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