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Chapter Leader Shoutout

Kudos to David Smoke, PS 315, and Cindy Lerner, PS 19, in Manhattan

For ensuring a smooth merger
New York Teacher
Cindy Learner

Cindy Lerner, PS 19

When PS 315, the East Village Community School, moves on Sept. 8 into the First Avenue building that houses PS 19, the chapter leaders for the two Manhattan schools can take a bow for their work in ensuring a smooth merger that meets the needs of both chapters.

PS 19, the Asher Levy School, has had its enrollment dwindle since the 1990s from 750 students to 180. Meanwhile, PS 315, which is three blocks away on East 12th Street, was bursting at the seams with 291 students and a waiting list.

Paradoxically, the schools’ differences made them ideal for a merger, the UFT chapter leaders discovered as they laid the groundwork for the combined school, whose new name has not been decided. PS 315 had a music program and a marching band; PS 19 had strong science and math programs.

David Smoke

David Smoke, PS 315

“It felt like a perfect fit,” said PS 315 Chapter Leader David Smoke, a 1st-grade special education teacher.

But to make it work, he said, they had to persuade not only staff at the two schools but parents, who were primarily people of color at PS 19 and more racially mixed at PS 315.

Esperanza Morales, an ENL teacher at PS 19, said that after she eased the way with phone calls to parents, Chapter Leader Cindy Lerner was particularly suited to convince them of a merger’s benefits. “She’s a go-to person,” Morales called her chapter leader. “She’s very good at defusing a situation or negotiating. The fact that she’s a school counselor means she’s very good at listening.”

Lerner, a chapter leader since 2016, said the biggest task was persuading parents from both schools that “change was not a negative.” She and Smoke created subcommittees that had parents collaborating with staff, including paraprofessionals.

Their “community-building” efforts included soccer games and a June 10 block party.

“We carved out an opportunity for open, honest discussion,” Smoke said. And, he added, “both schools were able to maintain their identity.”

The schools will share in the visual arts and music programs for which PS 315 is known and the STEM program featured at PS 19.

Smoke said they avoided any excessing as a result of the merger.

Lerner said a bigger concern was class size, which usually was no more than 17 at her school but 24 at the more-crowded PS 315.

She said class sizes in the new merged school would probably go to 24 or 25 students in some classes unless Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the legislation limiting class size.