The fact is, I DID think the school seemed nice. I visited on March 8 and liked the vibe immediately. The building's a yawn, but whatevers. And yes, the north Crown Heights neighborhood, on the other side of the Museum, is not exactly a stone's throw from those of us for whom The Q at Parkside is our hometrain, though the S (shuttle) would undoubtedly come in handy in the winter. But then again, I've come to view any District 17 school as pretty much within my notion of a "local" public school. This is basically my conclusion given that I'm not thrilled about my absurdly gerrymandered zoned school - Jackie Robinson 375 - or the school I'm actually nearest to, PS92. (More on those later, when I a) finally get to speak to leadership at 375 and b) find out who'll be leading PS92 next year upon the retirement of the longtime and capable, though not-terribly-welcoming, principal Diana Rahmaan. Speaking of District 17, not for nothing, given the extraordinary hoopla that exploded on this here blog regarding D17's superintendent, one could be forgiven for wondering whether some districts get a bad name for good reason! Sounds like she may be a goner soon too. Who knew a blog post could ignite such a firestorm?)
However, I've learned enough to know that a school's culture has much more to do with its leadership, teachers, and parental involvement than any arbitrary assigning of supervisors or districts. Much ballyhooed District 15 may have many good schools, but the defining fact of the district is its relative affluence and general high-educatediness of its parents. After all, it's not surprising that since Brownstonerites have become the dominant culture in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, even Windsor Terrace and South Slope etc., their schools have finally and fully begun to reflect that culture demographically, even though large numbers of kids from those areas still go to private schools. And so, in a matter of 20 years or so, a couple dozen schools in District 15 have now become "acceptable" alternatives to private for many middle-upper income parents, where not so long ago they would have shunned the same schools. So much of it is word-of-mouth and a bit of lemming follow lemming. But for a district that not so long ago was ALL about PS321 for picky parents, that's a HUGE change in perception.
While a lot of my peers seem discouraged and demoralized about not being zoned for a prized school, I continue to be astonished by the breadth of decent offerings I've encountered, both here and in neighboring districts. The list of schools that parents passionately trumpet throughout the borough is long and getting longer. There are at least a dozen schools that, either on first-hand observation or reliable recommendation, I would feel happy to seeing Little Miss Q enter into kindergarten, and hey, if it didn't work out there's always the option to transfer. Really. Scouts honor. And yes, as I've noted before, you CAN get in to many of them, with persistence, patience and particularly if you aren't rigid about this oft-heard refrain "either I get into Brooklyn New School or I'm moving to New Jersey." Frankly, if you want to move to New Jersey, I say go ahead. If the difference between suburban New Jersey and central Brooklyn is "six of one, half dozen of the other" to you, then why NOT live in the leafier commuter towns of the Garden State? Me I don't see how the same person can consider wanting to live in the two of them in the same lifetime, but I guess I'm the closed-minded one now aren't I? Smiley Face emoticon here.
Back to PS705...so the article in the Times did a pretty good job of spelling out the realities for most middle/upper income parents. But by the sheer fact of lending the Times name to Kelly Bare's own endorsement of the school, in one day, I kid you not, the school has gone from up-and-coming to fully desirable. Why? Because parents are looking for someone or something to legitimize a school, to give it a reasonably reliable thumbs up. That Ms. Bare works at The New Yorker, and her husband books bands for the Jimmy Fallon show, makes it all the more legitimate, right? Hey I'm not being sarcastic here. I like hanging out with people doing interesting things as much as the next Brooklynite.
(Reality check. That some of us can even talk about moving from place to place to find a good public school is entitlement in the extreme. I mean the majority of people have little choice over where they live, particularly if they're living in a subsidized or stabilized apartment. I'm reminded of the relative freedom of many of my peers these days, as I helped launch an international cultural exchange program at work, and one of the things that strikes home when trying to get people from Pakistan and China and Lebanon and Congo to the U.S. for a month, is that the vast majority of the world's people can't just up and go anywhere - at all. Traveling, and choosing one's place to live, is a pretty darn upscale privilege.)
Bottom line, much as PS770 (New American Academy) was given a thumbs-up by the NY Times, PS705 now gets its own Sulzberger star. Mrs. Q and I liked 705 a lot, we dug the principal Sandra Soto, we liked that music and dance and art are part of the of day-to-day curriculum. Most of all, I liked that we were welcomed and our questions treated like they mattered. It's really not that hard to win me over. Really. A smile, a warm reception, a "come be part of our family." If on top of that the principal is principled, the teachers caring, the facilities decent and the other parents seem active and interesting (they certainly seemed so the day I toured the school, helping out in the classroom, fundraisers, playing music and leading the tours), I mean, that's a pretty nice place to start. Screw the demographics and test scores. It's kindergarten, after all, not medical school.
Below, I've excerpted some lines from the email I got from Bare after the tour. What great marketing by a PTA! I've left out some names for privacy, but I think since it was sent to all I'm not letting any cats out of bags. I think she does a great job of capturing the spirit of a school trying to get off the ground with enthusiasm and a willingness to court parents to come. The school's just a year old after all - there was always the chance that it would die for lack of interest. One assumes that zoned kids get in first of course, but there's usually room for some persistent outsiders, even at popular schools. Though the number of persistent outsiders may have just grown substantially with the flick of a wrist of a deliverer of papers. The type that fit snugly in blue plastic bags.
Thanks for your interest in PS 705. You're getting this note because you attended our March 8 tour. I am the mother of a 705 Pre-K student and our PTA president, and I'm taking the liberty of writing you to share my family's story and give you a little more information about the school.
Our family is so happy at 705 and so honored to be a part of the school's inaugural year. My son is learning so much and enjoying every minute, whether he's conducting an experiment to see what seeds need to sprout, mixing colors and making animal puppets in art class, building pyramids and wrapping mummies to learn about ancient Egypt, listening and moving to "Peter and the Wolf" (then acting it out with a classmate on a playdate!), counting in English, Spanish and Swahili, creating an African museum in his classroom, or just playing with blocks or riding trikes in the gym. We love the art, the music, the dance, the dual-language program, the classroom experience, and, most of all, the people who make up the school community: the other children and their families, our talented teachers and administrative staff, and our fearless leader, Principal Sandra Soto.
Our PTA has had a fun and rewarding year so far, getting to know one another, brainstorming how we can support the administration, and, yes, beginning to raise some money to support our school's many enrichment programs. With the help of some talented parents with legal expertise, we are pursuing 501(c)(3) status, which we feel is an important first step toward providing a robust stream of financial support for the school.
I'm also on the school leadership team, along with a really vibrant group of teachers and parents -- some of whom are also educators -- and I am proud to say that we have recently completed our comprehensive educational plan for the 2013-14 school year and are beginning to lay the groundwork for implementing it. It feels fantastic to be part of an organization that is well, so organized...and working so effectively toward achieving its goals. Principal Soto is building a really powerful formula for success by hiring gifted, caring teachers and empowering and supporting them, forming strategic partnerships with community organizations, and opening arms wide to parental involvement. PS 705 parents feel welcomed, heard, and appreciated for the unique talents they have to share. We have been able to harness parent contributions in many different ways -- much like the school's overall philosophy of "discovering the gift in every learner."
And in case you haven't been googling us lately, the word is out!
Insideschools has featured us on their homepage as a noteworthy new school, and given us a nice writeup:
DNA info reported on how happy families are with the school:
york/20130211/prospect- heights/new-schools-win- acclaim-prospect-heights- crown-heights
We've had a couple shout-outs from Joyce Szuflita of NYC School Help:
And people are asking good questions on a thread on the Brooklynian board:
crown-heights-and-prospect- lefferts-gardens/k-705ps-22- on-st-marks
I also want to share the good news that we have been given an additional Pre-K class for the 2013-2014 school year. We'll have 54 seats available. Your best chance of getting one of them is to rank 705 first on your Pre-K application:
If you are interested in enrolling a child in 1st grade or higher, please contact the school directly: 718-230-0851. Fran in the front office should be able to help.
We're also getting moving on Facebook:
And on Twitter:
If you live in the neighborhood, you also may want to join the Parents for Crown Heights Schools google group, where more general discussions about neighborhood schools take place. I'd love to see this group grow and thrive, so please join!
Personally, I feel it's a rare opportunity and a real privilege to be a part of a new public school that is accessible to all, especially in a neighborhood like Prospect/Crown Heights, especially at this particular moment in time. And it is truly amazing to me how much 705 has accomplished in such a short time. I look forward to meeting or talking with you soon, and to working with our community to help PS 705 continue to grow.