They've Turned 10: Two Downtown Schools Celebrate a Decade of Growth

On the Spruce Street School auditorium stage, Principal Nancy Harris emcees an anniversary celebration and cake cutting before an audience of students from kindergarten to 8th grade. With her (from left) are three staffers who have been with the school from its beginning: Nancy Chen-Rios, school aide; Rena Gregory, secretary; and Sarah Maiolo, guidance counselor. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

Jul. 12, 2019

“The sight of tiny children dwarfed by the trappings of 19th-century political decadence is something to behold,” the Trib reported in October 2009, after observing two Downtown schools beginning their lives in Tweed Courthouse, each with its small cohort of kindergartners and staff occuping a wing of the landmark buildings first floor.

Back then P.S. 276 and P.S. 397 (the Spruce Street School) were “incubating” in lofty, unconventional classrooms and shared office space as they awaited the completion of their school buildings, P.S./1.S.276 on Battery Place in Battery Park City and P.S. 397 at 8 Spruce Street.

Now those “tiny children” are in high school and the Downtown schools, both k-to-8s, just celebrated their 10th anniversaries. The new schools, plus later the new Peck Slip School, would serve to relieve the overdemand for seats at P.S. 89 and P.S. 234.

“I think back to that first year when it was all pretty hypothetical and in the future,” Spruce Street School Principal Nancy Harris said in an interview. “There would be a new school [building] one day. There would be a middle school maybe. We just had our second 8th grade graduation last week. It’s incredible that it’s real and just continuing on.”

As a 29-year-old first-time principal, Harris said she couldn’t imagine the decade ahead. “I went into it hoping that I would live to see the graduation of 8th graders,” she said. “But I had never done anything for 10 years in my career up until that point. It seemed like a good idea but I really couldn’t picture what 10 years would look like.”

P.S. 276 Principal Terri Ruyter, whose school building opened in 2010, a year before Harris’s and with the start of a middle school as well, recalled having similar thoughts. 

“I didn’t have a vision for the magnitude of how many kids we would have,” she said. “I was in kindergarten land.”

And the new building? “I remember walking past it and thinking, ‘It’s huge!’ Now it’s just normal.” 

It may be hard to believe today, many parents opposed sending their kindergartners to the untested schools that first year, claiming the city was turning their children into education guinea pigs, and depriving them of their proven zoned schools, P.S. 234 and P.S. 89. But there were more kindergartners than those schools could accept, and school assignments were determined by lottery.

Ruyter recently received a thank you note from one of those formerly unhappy parents whose son just graduated from I.S. 276.

“It was a risk,” Ruyter said, quoting the mother, “and I’m so glad I took it.