Why parents need a neighborhood middle school

By Angela Benfield

Last year was a very stressful year for our family. We had no idea which direction our future was headed. This was because my daughter was in fifth grade, and we did not know which middle school she was going to attend.

Living in Battery Park City, we wanted her to go to I.S. 89. It was very important to us that she attends a school close to our home. My children were both students at P.S. 89 on 9/11, and I can’t imagine what I would have done if they weren’t close by that day. Our experience made the idea of her going to school at Baruch, located at 21st St. and First Ave., very scary. But that is the middle school our community is zoned for, and it’s the only one where she had a guaranteed seat. As ridiculous as it sounds, she was not guaranteed to attend I.S. 89, which is located just around the corner from where we live.

I was appalled to find out that if she did not choose to attend Baruch, she had to apply to a minimum of four other middle schools in District 2 listed in order of preference. We put I.S. 89 as our first choice, and sent in our application. This was in November of 2003. Then, a few months later, she was interviewed by an I.S. 89 teacher. I could not believe how afraid my daughter was. She felt like she was being judged. And, as a matter of fact, she was. I felt violated being forced to put my child through that. Finally, in May of 2004, we found out that she was accepted. However, during those six months in between, I kept wondering what I would do if she wasn’t.

My son was in second grade at P.S. 89 that same year. How could I drop him off at school on Warren St., and bring her up to Baruch in Gramercy Park (our only guaranteed option) at the same time? Not possible. I would have to send her off on bus or subway, but there are no direct bus or subway rides from our neighborhood to Baruch. Not only would she have to get there on her own, she would have to make transfers. I don’t consider myself to be an overly protective parent, but I did not like the idea of my 10-year-old daughter navigating the N.Y.C. public transportation system without adult supervision. I could not believe the Dept. of Education thought this was reasonable.

Now that P.S. 89 parents are protesting against this process and want I.S. 89 to become a community school, we are accused of not being inclusive. I found this quite insulting, not to mention, out of line. Just about every elementary school in District 2 is zoned. No one calls that exclusionary. Why should it be different for 6th to 8th graders? At P.S. 89, the P.T.A. launched a diversity committee this year with the main purpose of making all families feel welcomed. Does this sound like an exclusionary community? No one at P.S. 89 wants to get rid of any students at I.S. 89. We just want to make sure that we can get in.

If anyone is excluded, it’s us. My daughter was not freely accepted into I.S. 89. She had to apply and be interviewed first. It’s not a college. It’s not even a high school. But, this is what we had to do if she wanted to go to there. Now that we are at I.S. 89, we are very happy. It’s a much better school than its reputation. The teachers are great, the principal runs the school well, and I think my daughter is getting an education comparable to private school. She has also made many wonderful friends throughout the city. The biggest problem I have there is with other I.S. 89 parents (which is why I resigned as P.T.A. co-president this year). They are resentful of P.S. 89 parents’ wishes to change the school. Instead, they should try to empathize with them. We have a growing population of children and no middle school for them close-by.

Don’t get me wrong. If parents want to apply to another school because that’s what they want for their child, they should be able to. But, what about parents that don’t want to go through that process? What about parents, like me, that just want to know their child is in a decent school close to home? It’s a reasonable request to have this option in a neighborhood that promotes itself as being family oriented.

Well, if Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and the Department of Education do not think we should make I.S. 89 our community middle school, then they need to build a new one down here right away. There are 1,300 units being added to Battery Park City over the next two years, and they are mostly going to be two or three bedrooms intended for families. Is it fair for families to move here and then find out the zoned middle school is in Gramercy Park – not the one located in the same building as the zoned elementary school.

In any event, one thing is certain — District 2 cannot ignore this problem any longer. Too many children live here and more are coming. If they don’t want to zone I.S. 89 or build a new middle school for the students of Lower Manhattan, they better find a way to pick up Baruch and move it down here.

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