Carroll Gardens’ Pre-K program up for closure due to overcrowding

NEW YORK- A Carroll Gardens’ school might have to close its prekindergarten program next year due to a space crunch in the building, a school administrator said.

Katherine dello Stritto, principal of Public School 58, announced the possible elimination of the program in a letter she distributed to parents on Nov. 21.

“I regret that we will need to either eliminate or move our Pre-K program out of the building; this move is necessary to meet the needs of our growing community,” she wrote.

The three classrooms used for prekindergarten, dello Stritto said, are needed to re-accommodate students in the upper grades.

According to a report by the New York City Department of Education, third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms at Public School 58 are brimming with more than 32 students, which is the maximum established by the United Federation of Teachers, a union that represents public school educators in the city.

Carrie McBride, mother of two, said she didn’t know The Carroll School, as 58 is commonly known, was so overcrowded until she read the letter.

“I’ve always known this school is very popular,” she said. “But it was very shocking to learn that the music teacher’s workspace is more like a large closet by the gym.”

She also said she has mixed feelings about the situation because her son, now in the first grade, will benefit from the new space arrangement. However, once her 2-year-old daughter starts prekindergarten, she is going to have to pick her children up at different schools.

“Of course we don’t want our son to be in a classroom with 35 other kids, but how are we supposed to pick up one kid here and the other one in Red Hook?” she said.

McBride said that if dello Stritto is not able to find an annex solution in the next couple of years, she hopes her daughter will be accepted at Public School 32, located just a few blocks away from The Carroll School.

However, Angela Bowie, parent coordinator at Public School 32, said her school would not be able to make space for the cuts at 58.

“It is not like we have any additional space either, you know?” she said. “We already have two very full prekindergarten classrooms, and that’s all we can fit.”

The three prekindergarten teachers at 58 are also concerned about the situation, said Bethany Hatheway, one of them. Although dello Stritto is giving them the option to stay and work in other grades, Hatheway said, they would prefer to keep teaching prekindergarten because they believe in the importance of early childhood education. They are keeping all their options opened until they hear the final decision, she added.

Hatheway also said it saddens her to think that many parents will probably choose not to send their children to preschool next year.

“We are supposedly expanding prekindergarten programs in the city right now, but the opposite is happening in our neighborhood. That is tragic and ironic,” she said.

Anita Skop, superintendent for School District 15, said she is going to keep working with dello Stritto to try to find a new location for the program, which has been opened for 25 years. However, they won’t be able to reach a final decision until the spring, she added.

The situation at the Carroll School is just a small reflection of a district-wide issue, Brooklyn College professor of educational policy David Bloomfield said. District 15, which covers public schools from Park Slope to Sunset Park, is one of the most overcrowded in the city, as shown in a report by the New York City Department of Education.

Considering that this area of Brooklyn is expecting a significant influx of children in the next few years, the only sustainable remedy is rezoning, Bloomfield said.

“The solution will come from moving attendance zones around, where lower attendance schools receive kids from higher attendance schools,” he said.

In spite of the magnitude of the problem in the area, many parents are opposed to rezoning.

Maggie Fales, mother of a first grader at 58, said she hopes the DOE is not planning to rezone District 15.

“You invest so much in your community that you request a certain standard,” she said. “Rezoning would mean that the ball gets taken out of our court.”

Other parents, however, think there are no other solutions.

“There is no choice, there are too many kids and there is no room in classroom. So what are you going to do? You have to rezone,” Norlyanna Pontia, mother of a ninth grader who used to attend 58, said.

The conversation about rezoning in District 15 started back in October, when local officials organized a forum with parents in the Public School 58 auditorium.

During the meeting, parents proposed alternatives to ease overcrowding while avoiding the rezoning issues that have emerged in other school districts. Some of the ideas presented were: to build more stories over the existing schools and to assign two teachers per classroom.

A Department of Education press woman declined to comment when asked if rezoning was in the horizon for District 15.