The former St. Dominic school building will open as a public elementary school in fall 2015.
But after a contentious discussion between local residents and Community Education Council 11, the school will not be zoned and will open as a choice school.
The small elementary school, named X311, will open at 1684 White Plains Road with two kindergarten classes. The CEC discussed and voted on the Department of Education’s proposed zoning for the school at the November 18 calendar meeting.
The purpose of the new school’s zoning was to alleviate overcrowding at P.S. 83 in Morris Park. The small zone for X311 would have included the blocks of the president streets between Van Nest and Tremont avenues, as well as the blocks of Hunt, Holland, Wallace and Barnes avenues south of Morris Park Avenue.
But P.S. 83 principal Brandon Muccino opposed breaking up the zoning for his combined elementary and middle school.
His middle school classes are more crowded than his elementary classes, he said, and he expects that the middle school seats will be full again by the time the X311 students graduate fifth grade and look to attend P.S. 83 for sixth grade.
“They’re not going to be able to come back here,” he said.
He felt it’s important that families that were originally zoned for P.S. 83 retain the right to send their kids to an elementary school where they are then guaranteed middle school seats.
Several community members in attendance also voiced their opposition to the zoning plan.
One common complaint was that the Van Nest neighborhood is already divided by zoning; part goes to P.S. 83 while part travels to P.S. 105 in Pelham Parkway.
A zoned X311 would not be a true neighborhood school, they said, because it would not serve all the kids from the neighborhood.
Making X311 a choice school could mean more students would have the option to go to a school in their immediate area.
“Wouldn’t it make sense for you to choose to walk five blocks to school instead of busing up to P.S. 105?” Muccino asked.
The community members, including Community Board 11 vice chair and former educator Al D’Angelo, repeatedly urged the CEC to consider school choice.
“Let the parents make the decision where they’re going to send your children,” said D’Angelo.
On the other side, the superintendent urged the community to look at the long term needs of P.S. 83, which at 108% utilization could benefit from extra space.
CEC president Pam Johnson raised the concern that a choice school would not necessarily be filled with students from the immediate neighborhood.
“If it’s zoned, the kids in your area will be served,” said Johnson.
The principal of nearby Van Nest Academy, Carol Ann Gilligan, suggested the solution was to go the route of her school, which operated as a choice school with a tiered enrollment system, giving priority for students zoned for nearby schools.
Many community members, as well as Muccino, voiced strong support for this idea, but the CEC was only voting on whether to approve the DOE’s recommended zoning or not.
In the end, three members voted to approve the zoning while five abstained, and the zoning did not pass. The announcement was met with applause from those in attendance.
At the same November meeting, the CEC also voted on rezoning in Wakefield for a new public school in the former St. Anthony school building, which will alleviate overcrowding in P.S. 16 and allow for the removal of transportable classrooms. The proposed zoning passed without objection.