PS 191 Principal Lauren Keville on the roof of the new school, with residential buildings under construction behind her.

Politicians, students and teachers cut the ribbon on a brand new school on Wednesday, a happy culmination to years of often-acrimonious negotiations and delays.

The new PS 191 on 61st Street and West End Avenue boasts shiny new science rooms, a sun-filled playground, a library, two rooftop rec areas, a medical suite, a gym, an auditorium and other amenities.

The entrance to the building on 61st Street.

Principal Lauren Keville said she cried “tears of joy” when she saw the finished school a week ago. “This building is more than I could ever imagine,” she said.

The school, now dubbed The Riverside School for Makers and Artists, has capacity for 692 students from Kindergarten through Eighth grade, and will have a special focus on both arts and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

The new gym.

The school is inside a new building at 21 West End Avenue that is part of the luxury Riverside Center development. The shell of the school was constructed by private developers who agreed to build it after negotiations with local officials. It’s the first newly built elementary school to open on the Upper West Side in 45 years, a period when the neighborhood experienced substantial new development but minimal city investment in new school capacity. “With the dozens upon dozens of new residential buildings erected [in that time], you have to wonder what educational plan the city envisioned for its future,” noted Kim Watkins, president of Community Education Council 3, a parent body that advocates for local schools.

“Today is a glorious day,” said PTA President Charles Taylor (at right).

“It’s like a private school,” beamed teacher Alessandra de Bellegarde, who works with special needs students at the school. De Bellegarde said she thinks that 191 has been underestimated for years, and its student body deserves the shiny facility.

“I think it’s going to give oomph to the school because kids who go to 191 don’t always get new stuff,” she said.

PS 191 has historically educated students from the Amsterdam Houses projects, and its student population is predominantly black and Hispanic, unlike other nearby schools. That could change, however. After a rezoning last year, the PS 191 zone now includes more white students, many from families with more money than the students who have historically enrolled in the school.

It’s too soon to tell if wealthier students — including some from the developments along Riverside Boulevard — will attend the school or opt for private or charter schools. PS 191 doubled its test scores last year, but the scores still trail neighboring schools. And it was labeled “persistently dangerous” by the state in 2015, though that designation was removed last year.

A playground at the school.

There are some early indications that the school is becoming more popular. Its preliminary enrollment is 475, up from 425 last year, the Department of Education said, though final stats won’t be available until October at the earliest. The DOE had no information yet on the demographics of the incoming students.

The diversity issue was front and center at the ribbon-cutting. Borough President Gale Brewer said it would “serve the neighborhood’s diverse student population.”

“We have made equity and inclusivity a priority,” said City Council member Helen Rosenthal.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina (left), who has been criticized for failing to articulate a citywide solution to school segregation, pointed to the Upper West Side rezoning as a model of how to integrate schools.

“First and foremost, this is a real community effort,” she said.

Indeed, much of the heavy lifting on the rezoning was done by the Community Education Council 3, the local parent board. With just weeks to go before the rezoning had to be finalized and public officials remaining noncommittal, the CEC3 sent a letter to the DOE outlining its own rezoning plan. The DOE eventually agreed to a plan that was similar to the one CEC3 outlined in the letter. Some parents criticized that process, as the CEC3 is not an elected body (parents of children at local schools do get to choose reps, but it’s not a formal election) and its statutory role is to consult and vote on the plan, not to draw it up.

There were other criticisms too: those who had advocated for a much broader desegregation scoffed at the notion that the rezoning made a real dent in Upper West Side segregation.

A science room.

Other effects of the rezoning also remain unclear. PS 452 on 77th Street will move into the old 191 building on 61st Street and Amsterdam, upsetting many of the parents there. PS 452 Principal Scott Parker was at the 191 ribbon-cutting and said he’s “incredibly optimistic” about the upcoming school year. Enrollment remains strong and teachers all returned, he said. “Everyone’s happy with the move.” What about the parents who left? “Well, everyone who’s staying.”

For now, there are no wait-lists at PS 199, PS 452 or PS 87, which have had wait lists in the past, according to the DOE. But some expect more overcrowding soon, particularly with more new construction expected in the southern part of the district. The decision to shift PS 452 into the old PS 191 building and put a middle school in the old 452 was a mistake, said CEC3 member Noah Gotbaum. If PS 452 had stayed put and the city had made 191 a new zoned school, it would have added hundreds of new elementary school seats. “It’s not helping overcrowding, it’s making it worse,” he said.

A hallway at the new school.

The ribbon-cutting also included some noticeable omissions. No one from Community Board 7, which negotiated with the developer to get the school built, was invited, according to CB7 Chair Roberta Semer and district manager Penny Ryan. And Mel Wymore, who was chair of the board during much of those negotiations and advocated for a large school to reduce overcrowding, wasn’t on the guest list either. Wymore, who is challenging Helen Rosenthal for her City Council seat, showed up anyway and sat in the back.

He praised the design of the school, but said the omission of key people from the ribbon-cutting was “either a massive oversight or a pre-election political decision.” (The Department of Education put together the guest list, Helen Rosenthal’s office noted. The DOE did not have an immediate answer about the CB7 invitation.)

Those weren’t the only oversights that caused a stir. Farina credited Helen Rosenthal for her efforts, but not state assembly member Linda Rosenthal, who also helped create the new school. Linda Rosenthal got upset at Farina on her way out. In an email to West Side Rag, she explained more.

“Instead of playing politics and glad-handing at ribbon cuttings and new school openings, the DOE would be wise to invest the same kind of energy in policies that put our children first, that actually diversify our schools and create a rich and supportive learning environment.”

Meanwhile, State Senator Marisol Alcantara, who was not involved in the negotiations or rezoning, spoke at the ribbon cutting, later tweeting her support. But she referenced a completely different school:

PS 161 is on 133rd Street.

The first day of school is next Thursday. The Department of Education predicts that parents who see the new PS 191 will be inclined to send their kids there, and enrollment will continue to rise. If you’re zoned for the school but haven’t visited, give it a look!

Correction: We initially wrote that it was the first new school on the UWS in 35 years, but it turns out it was the first in 45 years.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. Anon says:

      I think you should check – I believe PS 87 does have a wait list (albeit a small one).

    2. UWS Typo Spotter says:

      So…. we’re throwing shade on the DOE for mistaking PS 161 and 191, but then say the school is at 300 West End Ave (which is at 74th st) rather than 21 WEA? Okay….

    3. Pedestrian says:

      Helen Rosenthal. Did another Trump. Mel Wymore carried the laborning oar on this project for the CB7 and yet little Miss Vindictive and Oetty had to make sure he would get no credit. Anyone who votes for Helen hast gen paying attention to her anti neighborhood and anti transparency policies. People like to say…vote for a woman. I say vote for someone who will be good for the humans who live here. That isn’t Helen! Vote Mel Wymore.

      • OriginalMark says:

        Grammar, spelling, and syntax are all important when writing a response that you would like to be understood.

      • Anni says:

        Poster ‘Pedestrian’ is incorrect about Helen’s involvement with the school process. She was involved every step of the way and supported the CEC3 plan (even though that put her in a tough spot with some shortsighted constituents). Helen has long been the superior champion of public schools.

    4. BillyNYC says:

      So awesome!!! As it should be.
      Now I want to go back to school 👏👏👏

    5. Jane says:

      If 191 is the new school how does that create diversification in the existing 191

      • Anon says:

        It doesn’t.

        • Excited About School says:

          199 has only 5 classes this year dowm from 6 and 191 has 3 classes this year up from 2. This is a huge victory for year one. If you do not believe me – call 191. They have close to 60 kids this year in kindergarten.

          This is because of significant increase in interest in the school from higher income families. With nearly 2 dozen luxury high rise buildings in the zone and a gorgeous school, change is happening.

          Please also see my additional comments toward the bottom.

      • Talksback says:

        There is only 191. By expanding the zone and providing room to grow, new families have room to come. Another school may have a waiting list but that doesn’t ensure a child can go there, especially if the list does not move. The children have to go somewhere. PS 191 has never turned away a child, even when a class has been full. You cannot say the same for other schools in the neighborhood. I am sure that when scores are published you will see that they went up at 191. Just admit it, the middle class fake liberal parents of the Upper West Side don’t want their special child to go to school with the “others” they find “less” than them. The best way to end segregation in our schools is for some of the pretentious parents in the neighborhood to admit what they are doing and stop it. Put your child in the zoned school, get involved, and help make it awesome. There is so much more that goes into this that people in Education will understand and most of the commentators who are not would not. Helen Rosenthal has consistently supported the school for the last 4 years. She was at the CEC meetings to show support among other things. I like Mel but his absences was noted at some of those contentious (and vile on the part of the anti-rezoning/desegregation people) meetings. Perhaps Mel was too quiet. I would have liked to hear what he had to say. Linda Rosenthal was disappointing.

        • Anon4 says:

          Slight improvement in scores, but massively failing, is still failing.

          Get a real plan and accountability towards success for the kids.

    6. Alison says:

      This little experiment in “diversity” is going to end badly, like all the previous ones.

      • Dannyboy says:

        The “experiment” will result in the outcome that it was designed to produce…continued segregation.

        • Fed Up says:

          This was never about integration for the politicians. That is how the PR firm they hired told them to spin the rezoning. This was always about being afraid of losing 191 to a charter because the DOE is incompetent. They had to do something or they were going to lose it.

          Unfortunately the something didn’t have to do with the DOE looking themselves in the mirror and knowing that they don’t know how to run successful schools – successful public schools in NYC only happen when they get rich parents involved to raise money and they know it.

          I’m no Success Academy cheerleader but they should take some kind of lesson from Eva Moscowitz’s model which creates highly integrated, highly successful schools on limited budgets.

          • Dannyboy says:

            Wait a second!

            All I heard was: Overcrowding, Wait Lists, Segregation, Enhanced School Programs,…

            It was about resisting Charters???

            wtf…is everything lying and deception?

    7. ScooterStan says:

      Re: “The shell of the school was constructed by private developers …. It’s the first newly built elementary school to open on the Upper West Side in 35 years, a period when the neighborhood experienced … minimal city investment in new school capacity.”

      Oooooh! Arrrghhh!! GREEDY-GREEDY Private Developers !!!
      LOOK what they’ve gone and done NOW!!
      Why, they’ve given the neighborhood an awesome brand-new school, the first since the Koch administration.

      The nerve of dem, proving that private initiative works SO MUCH BETTER than hide-bound, apathetic, lethargic unresponsive municipal bureaucracy.

      Did they profit from their deal?

      Of course they did! Good for them!! Good for us!!!

    8. Sherman says:

      I wish PS 191 success with its new digs.

      The question now is will PS 191 become a victim of its own success much like PS 191 has become?

      That is, being that PS 191 is in a beautiful new building and offers all sorts of special classes and programs will more upscale families be fighting to get their kids in this school, thereby leading to overcrowding and other tensions?

      Stay tuned…..

      • Anonymous says:

        No one is fighting to get into 191 – you can walk right in. Only about 40 kids signed up for Kindergarten. There is plenty of room.

        Most people decided to rent apartments in the PS 9 zone. That’s why there is a waitlist there.

        • Anon2 says:

          Actually that is not correct. Either you are making things up to doss the school or your numbers are old.

          There will be 3 classes of kids this year up from 2 in the past. A huge jump for one year. If you do not believe ne, call the school secretary and ask yourself.

        • Anon2 says:

          There is room at 191 but there are way more than 40 kids in K. They are up to 3 classes this year from 2 last year.

        • Excited About School says:

          There is no wait list but there are now 3 classes of kids up from 2 last year. There has been much more interest in the school.

          • Excited About School says:

            The number is actually now close to 60. Call the school for the updated numbers if interested.

    9. UWSForReal says:

      It is fantastic to have the new space as was much needed.

      The politicians need to drop the patting on the back and glory hogging ahead of the elections, esp. with many not even involved. The DOE PR release is like a who’s who. Mel Wymore’s quiet attendance speaks volumes since he was the CB7 head, driving the negotiations for the school in the first place. He wants to do what’s right – we need him elected on Sept 12.

      West Side Rag – please investigate:
      1. Waitlists, because the feedback from various parents contradicts what the DOE is touting. Force the DOE to give real numbers.
      2. Plan for getting all schools to passing rates. Improvement is good, but still failing is not acceptable. Let’s get a real plan and accountability.

    10. Actual UWS Voter says:

      Speaking of ‘pulling a Trump’, these comment sections have devolved into a deluge of fake accounts from what can only be the wymore people. Love letters from Russia anyone?

      Ive been prepared for a long time to vote ‘not helen’ in the primary, but this kind of trolling is really driving me back. After the presidential election last November and the general onslaught of visceral nastiness I encounter all day long on social media, I couldn’t be more turned off by this behavior.

      I just want ADULTS in office!

    11. UWSider says:

      A lot of people taking credit for things they didn’t have anything to do with. I believe Mel Wymore got this school for the upper west side.

    12. Upper West Parent says:

      Been doing a little research amongst parent coordinators. So here’s how the integration went. Only 2 of the students from Amsterdam Houses rezoned from 191 to 199 actually signed up for 199. And the same is true at 452. So, the entire upper west side was upended for 4 kids. Apparently no public servants checked with Amsterdam Houses because they all chose to stay at 191 and go to the new building. Wouldn’t you? Across the street, brand new facility and staying with your siblings. A lot of lip service by Helen on the “good” she is doing when it was all just a show. Vote her out.

      • Fed up says:

        And of course Ilene Altshul is withholding these results to some unspecified time after the election to help out her buddy. Actually the likelihood of them ever releasing the numbers is nil. Still waiting for a response to my FOIL from over a year ago.

      • Parker says:

        My god, is it any surprise that residents were reluctant to enroll their children after the horrific manner in which they were characterized in the press? 60 years after the Little Rock Nine nightmare, and the only difference is that our neighbors are far more calculating in the ways they exert their racist privilege.

        Yeah, yeah… you’re not racist, just a concerned parent. Got it, heard it, don’t believe it.

        As for the parent coordinators releasing this information to fuel public rumor mongering, I certainly hope the DOE/SCI investigates and terminates those involved for their selfless “service” to the community.

        • Impacted Person says:

          When will people stop making this about diversity? It is NOT NOT NOT about diversity. If all the great people, the great politicians, the great CEC3 members backed up their words with actions, PS 191 would be way overenrolled. However, they have chosen to go elsewhere, why because their kids are getting a better education elsewhere.

          Look at Success academy and some of the other charter schools. They have diversified. Why, simple answer, they are educating the kids in a safe environment. 191 is not educating kids, why would you send your kids there? Until 191 educates kids, they will be under enrolled, plain and simple

      • Anon2 says:

        It is true that there are not yet many kids going to 199 from the rezoned 191 yet. This is mostly because of grandfathering. Any child who has a sibling in k-8 is still zoned to 191 regardless of the change.

        There were only approximately 30 kids entering 191 from the Amsterdam Houses per year total and now only 2 buildings have been rezoned to 199. How many first-born kindergarteners can there be in two buildings? Even the DOE estimated only 2 kids per grade in each of the two gigantic Lincoln Tower buildings would be affected in the rezoning.

        What is happening much faster is the number of high-income families switching to 191. A jump from 2 to 3 classes a grade is a great start.

        This school was built for our neighborhood’s future, which should not be curtailed by people who want to construct it as a failure on day one. These kids deserve more than your comments.

      • Excited About SchoolEx2 says:

        This is mostly because of grandfathering. Any child who has a sibling in grades 1-8 is still zoned to 191 regardless of the change.

        There were only approximately 30 kids entering 191 from the Amsterdam Houses per year total and now only 2 buildings have been rezoned to 199. How many first-born kindergarteners can there be in two buildings? Even the DOE estimated only 2 kids per grade in each of the two gigantic Lincoln Tower buildings would be affected in the rezoning.

        Eventually, after grandfathering, there should be about 6 to 8 of the 30 kids per grade going to 199. It is not an even 1/3 split of the buildings among 191, 452, and 199 because 199 already has had the NYCHA extension in its zone.

        Eventually, about 11 or 12 NYCHA kids will enter 191 per grade. With nearly 2 dozen luxury high rises in the 191 zone, the school will become more coveted than 199.

        What is happening much faster is the number of high-income families switching to 191. A jump from 2 to 3 classes a grade is a great start.

        P.S. 199 has no wait list with only 5 classes per grade, down from 6. So 199 has one class less as 191 has 1 class more. This is a huge success for year one!

        This school was built for our neighborhood’s future. Please try to recognize these significant gains and realize that it is going to get even better every year from here – just like it did for 199, 87, 9, etc.

        • Where Is Plan for School Passing?? says:

          They could have rezoned everyone all at once, intra-grades – no grandfathering. Then, year 1 is more upheaval, but the full community is forced to buy-in and get it successful.

          Where is the tipping point of actual adoption and fulfillment? Additionally, but more important, what is the real plan to get schools to successful passing rates??

    13. Exerceo says:

      Lets face it, its all about them anyway. I hate it.