Following his election in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign promises to reform the city’s public schools were put to the test as he negotiated with the state government on policy ideas like universal pre-K and school co-locations.
In many ways, de Blasio’s education policies marked a turnaround from his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who oversaw the proliferation of charter schools throughout the city, and who approved a spate of controversial co-locations near the end of his last term.
In West Harlem, these included the creation of a new middle school on the campus of two public elementary schools—P.S. 192 and P.S. 325 on Broadway and 136th Street—and the approval of the co-location of the middle grades of Harlem Success Academy 4 with P.S. 149 on Lenox Avenue and 117th Street.
At P.S. 192 and P.S. 325, parents were divided over whether the addition of a middle school to their campus would constrain space or bring much needed middle-school seats to their neighborhood—a tension that has remained even as de Blasio declined to overturn the co-location during his review.
“These facilities are less than ideal,” Miriam Aristy-Farer, president of Community Education Council District 6, said in February, describing trailers being used for classroom space for students at P.S. 192 and P.S. 325. “Is there really space for three schools?”
More conflict occurred at P.S. 149, where public-school parents worried the addition of Harlem Success Academy 4 would displace the special-needs students their school serves.
But, when de Blasio canceled the planned co-location in February, 19 Harlem Success Academy 4 parents responded with a lawsuit that claimed the decision did not follow due process. Since they filed their complaint, language was added to the state budget in March that requires the public school system to provide or find space for charter schools—an apparent victory for Success Academies, a network of charter schools that had three co-locations revoked.
Confusion persisted, however, until this weekend, when de Blasio announced that space has been found in three Catholic-school buildings for all the Success Academy schools whose co-locations he reversed. How staff and students from these Catholic schools will respond to these co-locations remains to be seen.
De Blasio’s other major school reform—universal pre-K—is as yet untested, as it will go into effect next year. Pre-K seats will be added at P.S. 92, on 134th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard; P.S. 125, on 123rd Street and Morningside Avenue; and P.S. 192.
This year’s state budget also de-emphasized high-stakes testing, ending the practice of using it as the sole determinant of grade promotion. “It signals the end of holding a significant number of kids back because they haven’t learned the material they were supposed to learn in a particular year,” Eric Nadlestern, a professor at Teachers College, said of the change in March.
“Using a single indicator to determine a kid’s future is not a good idea,” he added. “There’s got to be some happy medium there.”