Brooklyn Heights P.S. 8 May Expand to Middle School

By Mary Frost

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — The city’s Department of Education (DOE) is moving on a proposal to expand a popular Brooklyn Heights elementary school to include the middle school grades. If approved, the middle school, which would serve kids in the 6th through 8th grades, would be located a few blocks away in Downtown Brooklyn.

P.S. 8 parents, who have been lobbying for a local middle school for years, passed a resolution at their January PTA meeting calling for their school to expand to a facility within walking distance of their present school building on Hicks and Middagh streets.

The city hopes to locate the P.S. 8 extension in a building housing George Westinghouse Information Technology High School and City Polytechnic High School at 105 Tech Place, fronting Tillary Street.

“This is a district that needs high-quality middle school seats, and P.S. 8 has a history as an excellent elementary school,” said DOE spokesman Frank Thomas. “We are proposing an expansion so they can offer that same quality education to middle school students.”

“We believe it’s going to go forward,” said P.S. 8 Principal Seth Phillips, “though there are still a few stages to get by. We believe everything is ‘go’ for next year – and it’s the right thing to do. We look forward to building something special.”

Phillips said that the middle school would open with roughly 54 sixth-grade seats, then expand each year. As an expansion of P.S. 8, the middle school would serve existing P.S. 8 students, “but if any spots are left over we would open it up to district students.”

P.S. 8 is in great demand since it underwent a complete overhaul eight years ago. Overall enrollment has increased by 29 percent since 2006.

This past year, 76 percent of P.S. 8’s students were on grade level in English, up from 64 percent in 2009-2010. The 2010-2011 English proficiency scores place P.S. 8 in the top 10 percent of schools citywide and in the top 1 percent of schools district-wide. Additionally, 81 percent of students were on grade level in math, up from 74 percent in 2009. The 2010-2011 math proficiency scores place P.S. 8 in the top 17 percent of schools citywide and in the top 6 percent of schools district-wide

Phillips said the parents enlisted the help of City Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights/Downtown/DUMBO) and state Senator Daniel Squadron. “The two of them were fantastic. And Joan Millman is always a great supporter. We’re fortunate to have the kind of support we get.”

“A high-quality middle school in our community is critical to continuing P.S. 8’s success,” Squadron said. “DOE deserves credit for answering our calls and proposing an expanded P.S. 8 that will provide our kids with the quality education they deserve.”

Parents Pushed for Neighborhood Middle School

“It all started with the parents,” Phillips said. “They’re the lifeblood of this place. It’s all about what we have here at P.S. 8 and how they want to continue that.”

P.S. 8, a District 13 school that serves pre-K through fifth-grade children, recently added an 18,000-square-foot addition for its burgeoning elementary-age population. But once kids graduate, families find there is no neighborhood middle school to go to.

“That would be perfect,” said P.S. 8 mom Jesse Leon, who said she had feared her daughter would have to travel to Park Slope or further for middle school. “My job is here, and I have no one to drop her off or pick her up.”

Brooklyn Heights parents haven’t had a neighborhood public middle school option since the 1970s, when P.S. 8 was a K-8 school. The closest public middle schools are in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, and the number of seats in the Fort Greene school is shrinking.

The Westinghouse building is currently at 79 percent of capacity, and the addition of a middle school would bring it to between 83 and 90 percent.

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