This blogger doesn't have children (yet) and doesn't own an apartment in Hudson Heights (yet). So, theoretically, I have little to lose from the City's misguided idea to eliminate the school zone for P.S. 187. But I'm completely opposed. And if the City ever approves the plan, I would think twice about doing either in Hudson Heights (kids, buying). That's because the zoned school helps make Hudson Heights the great neighborhood that it is.
The idea involves the creation of a fluid school district covering all of Upper Manhattan. Parents would fill out an application for their children, rank their school choices and the Department of Education would assign seats in the various schools in Upper Manhattan. This would give children from other neighborhoods access to Hudson Heights' school, P.S. 187. And it would end guaranteed placement of Hudson Heights kids in their neighborhood school, which covers Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. If the idea sounds terrible for kids, that's because it is.
P.S. 187 is a great school because it is a zoned school. A strong PTA and committed core of educated, professional parents have helped transform the school environment in the past ten years. Neighbors of all income levels and ethnicities gather in front of P.S. 187 before and after school to chat and exchange information. No child must walk too far to get home. Neighbors pick up their neighbors' children. A better environment encourages more families to keep their kids in the public schools. It helps attract and keep better teachers. The result is not a "Caucasian" or "wealthy school"; the majority of students are of color and most qualify for free school lunches. But everyone shares one thing in common--our neighborhood. If you eliminate the zone you eliminate the fundamental reason for the school's success. Parents from outside the zone are clamoring for a decent, safe school for their kids. That is understandable. But the route they (and the City) are choosing to meet that need will destroy the end goal.
There is a larger policy issue at play here. Middle class families are an endangered species in New York City. Even through the boom years of 1995 to 2007, when young professionals flocked to Brooklyn and northern Manhattan, the 2010 census showed that the City continued to lose middle class FAMILIES. The hemorrhaging began in the 1960s and it has never ceased. Wealthy New Yorkers can buy their way out of the problems of crime, bad schools and lack of decent housing. The poor are, lamentably, stuck. And young professionals don't worry so much about these issues--at least until they hit 30. But for middle class families, staying in the City is a choice. We can leave and move to the suburbs where we would exchange a longer commute for low crime, great schools and more affordable housing. We stay because of our commitment to urban living. But everyone has a limit. When the City begins to understand that reality and infuses care for middle class families into policy making, the steady exodus of middle class families will slow. They can start by preserving the school zone that keeps thousands of middle class New Yorkers in Hudson Heights.