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In District 2, push to create more schools trumps closure news

Parents in Manhattan’s District 2 came to a town hall meeting Wednesday night with Chancellor Dennis Walcott with one item at the top of their agendas: plans to manage school crowding.

But Walcott wanted to talk about other things. He opened his remarks by talking about the city’s scores on a national exam, then segued into announcing that the Department of Education would soon name the schools it wants to close.

No District 2 schools are on the city’s shortlist for closure. Three high schools located in the district, but not administered by it, are on the list.

Walcott was tight-lipped about which schools would receive closure notices over the next two days. But he said department officials had been considering whether the shortlisted schools “have the capacity to improve.” And he told reporters that the decisions would support the middle school reform initiative he announced earlier this year.

“I made a commitment around middle schools and I intend to adhere to that commitment,” Walcott said. “I want 21st-century middle schools that are meeting the needs of our students.”

Most of the roughly three dozen parents who braved heavy rain to attend the meeting wanted to talk about the demand for new neighborhood elementary schools and the city’s recent rezoning proposals. Earlier this fall, families turned out in droves to protest elements of a three-part proposal to rezone schools in Downtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side. District 2 Community Education Council members rejected the first two proposals and held a meeting to discuss the city’s revised, final offer after the town hall.

Walcott did not stay for the zoning meeting, which CEC members and about a dozen remaining audience members kept short. Several parents from a building in the Financial District that has been rezoned from the Spruce Street School to Peck Slip, a new school set to open in Tweed Courthouse next year, said they opposed the switch. CEC members said they would consider alternate proposals but said they did not expect the DOE to come out with another revision.

Several CEC members decried the city’s response to crowding in the district, charging that the School Construction Authority’s projections of how much space is needed does not reflect reality.

‘We want a seat at the table when some of these decisions are made,” Elizabeth Weiss, the CEC’s vice president, said. “We want to sit down with the SCA before, not after.”

Before leaving, Walcott acknowledged the need for more school space in some parts of the city. But when pressed on the possibility of opening new schools in District 2, which faces overcrowding in many elementary schools, Walcott said practical realities would prohibit the DOE from adding more schools at the pace community members say they would like to see.

“We need to get as creative as possible, especially in Manhattan, which is so dense,” he said.

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