DNAinfo: Upper East Side Parents Victorious in Fight to Find Permanent Home for PS 151
By Amy Zimmer
January 24, 2011
Parents of kindergartners and first graders at the two-year-old P.S. 151 are breathing a collective sigh of relief.
The Yorkville Community School, as P.S. 151 is called, will be moving out of its temporary space in a former Catholic school at 323 East 91st St. and into a permanent home this fall in the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, at 421 East 88th St. The students at that school will head to a new site downtown.
A group of nearly 25 dedicated families spent two years trying to get P.S. 151 opened and then making this next move happen. They met weekly, launched letter-writing campaigns and walked block-by-block with elected officials to scout locations and stayed on top of the Department of Education.
"I had never made a political call before this," said Lori Levin, now co-president of P.S. 151's PTA . "When it comes to your children, you'll do anything for them."
Levin recounted calling Councilwoman Jessica Lappin's office while in Florida in the summer of 2008 to discuss the growing number of Upper East Side students competing for a finite number of elementary school seats.
At that time, kids living in the zone of the former P.S. 151 — which had closed about a decade earlier either — were lotteried off to nearby schools since it had no school of its own. But those schools, including the esteemed P.S. 6 and P.S. 267, were bursting at the seams.
The Department of Education scrambled to find an alternative. One idea it floated would have put kindergartners in the basement of Wagner Middle School, parents said.
"I was not going to put my son in a basement anywhere," said Jackie Filler, a P.S. 151 parent whose son was set to enter kindergarten.
The social worker moved her psychotherapy patients' hours so she could be available for the Thursday night meetings parents began holding at a local nursery school, Filler said. They would meet with top DOE reps and elected officials to discuss possible places for a new P.S. 151 and a vision for its curriculum.
Worried that the DOE wouldn't come through, Filler put a $5,000 deposit at a private school for her son — even though she wasn't sure how she would pay for a private education, she said.
The parents' dedication paid off when they found the old Our Lady of Good Counsel building. But P.S. 151 only had a three-year lease. Parents still needed to find a permanent home.
"From the very beginning, we said Richard Green was the obvious choice," said Lappin, who has been fighting for more neighborhood elementary and middle schools.
The DOE announced in November it was considering a downtown move for the high school — which has spent the last two decades in a space built for elementary school students with wee-sized stairwells and bathrooms.
Because that plan faced opposition from the highly selective Millennium High School also eyeing the downtown building at 26 Broadway, P.S. 151's parents mobilized behind Green's move, getting petition signatures until the "nth hour" before the DOE's vote last Wednesday approving it, Filler said.
"It was a perfect storm of dedicated parents, an obvious and undeniable need and some luck," Lappin said.
Filler has regained trust in the DOE "because they delivered," she said, "but they delivered under a lot of pressure. It shouldn't have needed to take this much energy, time and hours of stress and anxiety."
"Was it easy? No," Levin said. "In the end, my first grader comes home smiling everyday and it's worth it."
The Upper East Side is projected to need 800 more elementary school seats by 2014, according to one analysis.