jess wisloski
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Noise holds school hostage
Experiment with no walls a loud failure

BY JESS WISLOSKI

7-10-07

YOUNGSTERS TRYING to learn their decimals at this school have had to live with too many decibels. Noise has become a constant backdrop at Public School 175 on City Island because of a failed experiment in building a school without classroom walls.

"If I'm in the open area showing a video, and you're in a language arts class and trying to read, it's a distraction," said its frustrated principal, Amy Lipson.

Under her leadership, PS 175 has become one of the top-performing schools in language arts and math skills boroughwide. But the lack of walls keeps holding them back.

"We are always trying to keep them quiet," Lipson said. "It inhibits the kind of talking you would like to have in classrooms."

Parents and administrators thought the city was going to retrofit the building this summer, walling off the eight spaces now divided only by blackboards and bookshelves for 200 kids. But a few months ago, they learned the project was not a priority in the city's five-year capital budget.

Acoustic studies and city inspections in 2005 and last year found "unacceptable" levels of speech recognition by children in the makeshift classrooms. Detailed plans of how to renovate the school were produced.

"It's been years of broken promises, and the parents have pretty much had it," said Dr. Edmund Rothschild, president of the Parents Association. "The Department of \l Education seems to be uninterested at best."

A DOE spokeswoman said overcrowding was the city's priority.

"With all of the needs we have, the costs of converting these partitioned spaces into walled classrooms are great," said spokeswoman Deborah Wexler. "We hope to consider this issue for the next capital plan."

That's a familiar refrain to Principal Maria Pietrosanti at PS 205 in Belmont, one of the three Bronx and one Manhattan schools citywide with the same problem layouts. She was told years ago to cancel her summer school program so the problem could be fixed.

"They never came and I was told the smaller high schools were the priority," she said. "I understand there's a lot to take into account . . . but they just redid the roof and ventilation. I feel it would've been better if they'd taken care of the walls first. I haven't heard anything about it since."


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