Taller dividers at Peck Slip School, but division remains

Photo courtesy of Peck Slip School PTA.   The new taller dividers at Peck Slip School.

Photo courtesy of Peck Slip School PTA.
The new taller dividers at Peck Slip School.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  The Dept. of Education has installed taller dividers for Peck Slip School classrooms currently housed at the Tweed Courthouse but tension over the use of conference rooms on the first floor remains.

Peck Slip School, also known as P.S. 343, is “incubating” at the courthouse while a new facility is being built and that should be open by next fall. Classrooms were divided with six-foot partitions that parents said led to noise and disruption.

The D.O.E. put in taller dividers, over 10 feet, starting Oct. 20, but they don’t reach to the ceiling. Additional baffling will be placed on top of the partitions.

For several weeks, Peck Slip School parents, Community Board 1, and several elected officials have asked Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina to relinquish the two conference rooms so that they could be used as classrooms.

In an Oct. 14 letter, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver offered his conference rooms at 250 Broadway.

“They didn’t like that idea,” Silver said at the Oct. 23 School Overcrowding Task Force meeting.

Borough President Gale Brewer also wrote an Oct. 10 letter to Farina about the conference rooms. At the meeting, C.B. 1 chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes offered the community board’s conference rooms.

D.O.E. officials at the meeting would not comment on the conference rooms.

“I can say I think the dividers that existed prior to these new ones were indeed very shallow,” a D.O.E representative said at the meeting.

He said given the difficulty of working on an internal landmark, “the work that was done is quite extraordinary in a short period of time.”

“I should say that the sound between rooms is now quite muffled,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s totally non-existent. But I think that instruction can happen without any real interruption.”

Maggie Siena, the school’s principal, said the D.O.E. Office of Space Planning completed the work, which was done on the weekend, so there was no disruption to instruction.

“I am in the rooms a lot, I am at the rooms on a daily basis and there’s no question you can hear noise,” Siena said at the meeting. “But it is not loud.”

She said that the taller partitions have been helpful, but “it’s not all of sudden it’s like we’re in a silent space, that’s not the case.”

For parent Joy Martini, whose son is in the first grade, the question over whether the dividers have helped to lessen the noise and disruption is not the right one, but rather if the D.O.E. is fulfilling its mandate.

“We shouldn’t be asking if it’s a little bit better. It’s untenable,” Martini said in an Oct. 30 phone interview. “I think the dividers and the mitigation of noise has become a red herring.”

Martini recently visited the classrooms for Family Wednesday on Oct. 29 and she said that the other class was sent away making it hard to determine the effectiveness of the new partitions. She said she and other parents have asked their children about the dividers and they all say that they can still hear their friends on the other side of the divider.

“I don’t think a six-year-old is equipped to measure degrees,” she said. “The degree of sound improvement is so miniscule that someone would have to a graduate degree to properly quantify its improvement.”

Martini said that the parents put together a petition with hundreds of signatures and sent it to the D.O.E. but have not heard a response.

“The D.O.E. has been so discourteous,” said Martini. “The community, the parents, elected officials have all called upon the D.O.E. to share the space.”

A D.O.E. spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

At the Task Force meeting some parents raised the point that the two conference rooms were actually slated to be classrooms after the Tweed Courthouse was renovated.

Martini said, “that the chancellor is greedily, greedily holding onto” the conference rooms.

“What we hoped for with the change of administration was a better dialogue and more acceptance of community input,” Paul Hovitz, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s  Youth and Education Committee, said at the meeting. “I just don’t understand, Mr. Speaker, why Chancellor Farina, who is an educator and we welcomed so much, has dug her heels in so much and saying we must have these rooms here.”

Peck Slip School parent, Eden Lopez, whose son in the second grade, said that the parents have been reasonable, but they are not going to take “no” for an answer.

“This conversation is a silly one at this point,” said Lopez in an Oct. 31 phone interview. “It’s just unfair. It’s like they’ve dug their heels in and they won’t share.

There is no reason we shouldn’t get the classrooms.”

She said that her seven-year-old is telling her that he is getting side tracked because he can hear his friend in the other class. She is infuriated when she hears about how next year the students will get a new school as a response to the problems of this year.

“Should second grade be a wash for my child?” she asked.

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