By Evelyn Levine

Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina tried to reassure Upper West Side parents at a town hall meeting on Wednesday night that PS 191 on 61st street is a safe school that’s improving. But she acknowledged that the Department of Education should have formally challenged a ruling that the school is “persistently dangerous.” That ruling has made it more difficult for the local school board to rezone the neighborhood around 191.

farina2The town hall meeting held at PS 191 was raucous at times. Even as some shouts broke out – from a packed auditorium – the chancellor used her teaching skills to quietly insist that she would not continue until the room is silent. Her admonishment of “Let’s keep our focus on the kids” seemed to work for the moment. (The photo at left shows her conferring with another official at the meeting.)

In her introductory remarks, the Chancellor advocated for diversity as it creates richer cultural environments and better citizens. To be accepted by the community, she said, it must be planned carefully and tough decisions have to be made.

The Chancellor acknowledged that P.S. 191 is a school in transition; and the Chancellor committed to put additional resources in place to continue to help the school improve its academic performance. She said she is confident the school will continue to progress under the leadership and vision of new school principal Lauren Keville.

farina meetingHowever, P.S. 191 remains on a state list of schools designated as dangerous—which allows parents to request a transfer. The Chancellor stated that the label had been based on misleading statistics (such as counting each incident even if it was the same kid in multiple incidents). She acknowledged that the DOE should have fought harder to appeal it; but the fact is – the school remains on the list until the end of the school year when it can be re-assessed.

The Chancellor’s remarks were followed, and underscored, by a performance of the P.S. 191’s multi-ethnic school choir singing songs of harmony and peace.

Top photo via Department of Education. Others by Evelyn Levine.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. Uncle Matt says:

      Another brilliant non-solution from the DOE: take away the designation and the school will be better. Just like magic.

      News flash: sexual assault, arson, assault with weapons, IS VERY DANGEROUS. All this at an elementary school, mind you.

    2. J says:

      “The Chancellor’s remarks were followed, and underscored, by a performance of the P.S. 191’s multi-ethnic school choir singing songs of harmony and peace.”


      But lets face the facts. The proposed rezoning plan that would result in wealthy and middle class kids being zoned into the “persistently dangerous” and otherwise low-performing PS 191 is a farce.

      Few parents who are smart and aware will send their kids to 191 unless they have no other option. Parents who are zoned into 191 will find other options if they can afford to do so. And 191 will remain a “poor” school (and PS 199 a “rich” school) until a good solution is found and accepted.

      Zoning kids into 191 is an affront to all. It’s an affront to the wealthy and middle class in the neighborhood who, if the proposed rezoning passes, would be forced into alternative schooling options. Last, and certainly not least, 191 is an affront to the poor in the neighborhood (including the people in the Amsterdam Houses).

    3. Brandon says:

      “misleading statistics (such as counting each incident even if it was the same kid in multiple incidents).” How is that misleading? If there is one kid beating someone up every day that’s just as troublesome as 180 kids only doing it one day per year. Maybe worse because it shows the system was unable to change the behavior of the repeat offender.

      • Julie says:

        It would help if the DOE and others would stop downplaying the designation as a mistake by creating hypothetical ways the data could be wrong. The data is consistent with the insideschools survey showing that show 61% of teachers say bullying is a problem (compared to 22% average), 33% of teachers say order is maintained in the school (compared to 84% average), and 36% of teachers would recommend school to other parents (compared to 86% average). The Chancellor said she trusted insideschools survey results when looking at schools. It is very hard to believe that the objective data collection is wrong, but the anecdotal stories of a few incentivized people making up hypotheticals is right. Stop dismissing people’s fair concerns about safety and acknowledge it is a problem that they are working on.

    4. Sherman says:

      “The Chancellor advocated for diversity as it creates richer cultural environments and better citizens”.

      Give me a break.

      I’ll say out loud what nobody has the courage to say:

      No parent of a PS 199 student wants their child in a school filled with poor minority kids from the projects.

      If the city and School Board insist on “diversity” white parents will send their kids to private school – or leave the city altogether.

    5. J says:

      The principal of 191 is now under pressure to under-report the number of violent incidences at the school.

      This under-reporting will get 191 off the “persistently dangerous” list for next year. It’s the DOE trying to pull the wool over our eyes again.

      And violence is only half the problem (albeit the more disturbing half). The other problem is the atrocious academic performance of the student’s at 191.

    6. nybagel says:

      Instead of focusing on trying to slip through a technicality and getting off the list, they should be focused on addressing violence in the school.
      There is no reason why it should be acceptable to have any violence, sexual assault, weapons, etc in an elementary school.
      They are showing themselves to be more interested in their political careers and PR than in the safety of these children.

    7. Citizen says:

      There’s no violence in the school. Things like a door hitting a kid (even if it was the kid’s fault) were entered incorrectly and counted as violent incidents. A kid throwing a crayon would be considered assault. That’s why the Chancellor knows it was her and the DOEs fault in allowing the designation to happen. My child is at 191 now in pre-k and I’ve done my research by seeing it with my own eyes and talking to parents and teachers. I have no concerns at all about safety.

      • Mike says:

        I’m glad YOUR experience has been positive and you feel comfortable with the school. A 191 parent yesterday mentioned that the pre-K has a very different class make-up than the K-8 classes, with very few lower income students. I hope to hear more about your experience at 191 if your child stays there. I’m not convinced by the repeated examples of how data could have been misclassified, like a thrown crayon. If that’s true, then it makes me think the 191 teachers/officials are incompetent, which isn’t much better. There seems too much consistency across different data sources and we don’t see such errors in other schools.

        • Scott says:

          “Lower income?” What are you saying Mike?

          • Mike says:

            I think she meant most of the parents in 191 pre-K are from luxury high rise buildings, which doesn’t match the average family in 191 where something like 90 percent receive lunch support. I took her to also be suggesting that many of the 191 pre-K families are from 199, which doesn’t have pre-K.

      • Brandon says:

        Citizen, I can see the door hitting a kid incident go both ways. It could be an accident because kids don’t think to look before they open a door. It could also be a case of a child intending to hurt another by slamming a door into them it is an act of violence. Do you have inside information about the incidents at 191 to know which scenario is closer to the truth?

        • Citizen says:

          I have inside information through off-the-record discussions. The teachers and administrators seem to not be allowed to be specific with what happened – I believe it’s due to confidentiality concerns. I also think that there was one administrator in particular whose job it was to upload this information into a database. That administrator was either poorly trained or incompetent or both. I don’t know if that person is still there. The principal is new however.

          • Citizen says:

            And to answer your question, I heard that it was much more things that were very simple accidents that would happen at any school. Those were misclassified. My belief is that the majority of incidents were quite normal. I’m sure some were a bigger deal but my impression is those were rarer. The parents were told definitively that there had been no incidents with weapons.

            • Uncle Matt says:

              That is a hell of a lot of midi classified entries. That excuse simply seems too unlikely to be true.

            • Concerned parent says:

              I’m just not convinced that the dangerous data over 2 years and the bullying/discipline surveys of 191 teachers are all wrong based on the repeated story by 191 supporters that they heard from someone that these were misclassifications. Parents who say they haven’t seen any problems are only there a limited time for drop-off and some volunteer work, the teachers are there with kids 35 hours a week and their survey numbers are very concerning. I don’t think there is wild gang violence or anything, but it does sound like bullying, discipline, and physical confrontations are a real problem. I am not willing to risk my child establishing a fear and hatred for school by starting in such an environment.

    8. What really took place says:

      Isn’t it obvious?

      New principal come into troubled school.
      New principal reports every single incident that crosses her desk.


      I’ll tell you why. So she can establish a high initial baseline for incidents and then look like a hero in subsequent years as those numbers decrease.

      Wouldn’t you?

      Its like deliberately failing a test at the beginning of the year if your objective is to show how much progress you made.

      The only wrinkle is that Kelville didn’t know 191 was being watched by the state. So her strategy massively backfired and triggered the persistently violent designation which she hadn’t counted on. She never planned on being the principal of a failed school. Now she has to dig it out.

      Regardless – you cant ignore the appalling Inside Schools rating. And you cant claim the school is a winner when less than 30% of teachers would send their own children there! And thats regardless of whether you buy my theory above!

    9. DadOf2 says:

      My concerns about 191 isn’t the population or the “danger” but the lack of support from the principal and the administration. They focus on organization of the room and buliton boards instead of the needs of the children. My child heard things and reports home. There needs to be support staff to assist the teachers with children who are acting out so other children can learn and grow at 191 with the guidence of some wonderful teachers!