Look Beyond Favorites to Up-and-Coming Schools in the Neighborhood

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, February 21, 2013

When young families move to Park Slope, many try to find an apartment near the sought-after P.S. 321, one of the highest performing public elementary schools in the city.

But with median home prices in the P.S. 321 zone hovering just under $1 million, according to StreetEasy, some families inevitably discover that they can't afford an apartment in the tony brownstone.

“People call from Manhattan, and all they’ve heard about is P.S. 321,” said Judith Lief, an associate broker at Warren Lewis Sotheby's International. "The first thing I do is say, 'There are other schools in the neighborhood — why don’t you check them out?'"

It's a dilemma parents face all across the city: How much are you willing or able to spend to live in a neighborhood zoned for a big-name public school? And how much are you willing to risk by sending your kids to an up-and-coming school that may have lower test scores or a smaller budget?

Joyce Szuflita, who founded NYC School Help and advises families on public and private school admissions, frequently helps parents negotiate those tradeoffs.

"Many of them say, 'Of course we've heard about [P.S.] 321 and other strong programs, but we can't afford an apartment there, or there are no properties available,'" Szuflita said. "'We like that neighborhood — what are the options?'"

Szuflita closely tracks up-and-coming schools in Brooklyn's more affordable neighborhoods, noting which ones have a new, progressive principal and which ones have received grants to launch enrichment programs.

A school's reputation — and the surrounding real estate prices — can take years to catch up to the school's quality, which means there are plenty of good deals available for those willing to go out on a limb, experts say.

"I'm talking to them about everything from the schools everyone knows about to the real wild cards that maybe very few people know about," Szuflita said. "It depends on the family's feeling — how much they're willing to gamble on an emerging program."

In Park Slope, parents suggest P.S. 10 Magnet School for Math, Science & Technology, at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street, as a strong alternative to P.S. 321.

The school's South Slope neighborhood is more affordable than prime Park Slope, with median home prices running about $100,00 cheaper than the P.S. 321 zone, according to StreetEasy.

P.S. 10 earned an A on its most recent Department of Education progress report, with an A in both student performance and school environment, which measures satisfaction among parents.

The school is led by well-respected Principal Laura Scott, known for creating an inviting and collaborative atmosphere for teachers, students and parents, said PTA co-president Amy Schwartzman.

“Although we’re a school that has 905 students, it still feels like a very small place,” said Schwartzman, who has a second-grader at P.S. 10.