Hello Mr. Klein:
I am a mother of three pre-school kids on Roosevelt Island and I want to ask you about our local Public School (PS 217) here on Roosevelt island.
The island has undergone massive population shift since 2004 when the "Octagon" building brought in a whole new demographic of mid-to-upper-middle-income families. An even greater shift has occured in the median education level of the average family living here since Memorial Sloan Kettering, Cornell and Rockefeller University began housing their staff and faculty here - some in Manhattan Park and other in the new "south town" buildings.
Yet the public school is stll clearly NOT an option for these families: Most (about 85%) make their lives incredibly complicated and more costly (not to mention WAY more stressful, especially to the kids) by dragging their children off to private or "G&T" schools in the city. Why do you think that happens here? These people are probably not racists, it seems many are foreign-born themselves (mainly India, China, Europe) or part of a minority group themselves. All are well educated (clear by the fact that they work and study at those institutions) and most are well aware of the stress that such daily back-and-forth travel causes both the infrastruture of their family and the psyche of their children.
So why do you think they don't feel PS217 is an option? The physcial building is fantastic. The location is a dream come true for every single island resident. Clearly something about the school is scaring them away. Test scores are no where near stellar but they have slowly started to improve. What are the other usual suspects? Administration (not responsive). Student body (not representative). Parents (no involved). Teachers (overwhelmed).
For me, it was all four of these reasons, and in that order. When I walked into that school the first time, there was an immediate sense that my children (while confident and with a strong sense of self) would none-the-less quickly become lost in a bitterly disappointing and distracting battle, a class struggle of sorts that would pit them against a small but significant number of students whose parents had clearly (screamingly) failed to teach their children the most basic of life skills: common courtesy, basic manners and a few social graces. I know it happens all over the city but I was blown-away by the level of foul language tolerated throughout the halls, not whispered but rather loudly shouted and without a second glance from the distracted staff; by a large Rikers-worthy guard who while friendly was not beyond shouting equally foul things back at the older children right in front of a stream of fearful looking lower-schoolers; No where in sight was there a friendly looking Person In Charge (as I had seen in so many other schools that I have visited) No, this seemed like a school in midst of Chaos. The signs out front hung with half missing letters for years, the doors and surrounds sprayed with graffiti...What I want to know is, would you send your child to a school like this? Would the Principal send her own daughter there 3 years from now when she qualifies? Highly unlikely.
How concerned is the BOE about such a mass-migrations? More to the point, why does the Principal seem so oblivious to the concerns of the Island's new residents? What most upsets parents (and we are a large and growing group) is that, although we pay the same taxes as other Manhattanites, we do not have equal access to high quality education for our children in our local public school. We cannot understand why students are bussed in from as far away as the Bronx and Queens yet RI parents cannot choose as an option for their children to go to, e.g., PS 183 ( a good public school near the places these parents work MSKCC, Cornell, Rockefeller who refuses to accept "variances" from us even though we are in the same district!). There is not even a G&T option available - despite the fact that there are clearly more "G&T" students qualifying than schools that can absorb next year. Why for example did the city decide to open YET another G&T in Chinatown rather than one in some of the under-served area like ours (UES)? How about Roosevelt Island's many smart kids?
Parents here have few choices and so we either we must risk putting our children into what to all neutral observations is a border-line school, or we must add 2-3 hours to the family commute time daily OR (if we are very lucky) we must sell off our retirement in order to pay the exorbitant ($32K / year PER CHILD!!!) cost of private kindergarten in order to ensure that our children remain competetive in this increasingly inegalitarian city.
What gives Mr. Klein?