School Choice: The Coburn-Gillespie Family

This is the second profile in a series of interviews with parents about the schools they send their children to, by choice or by the randomness of the NYC school system. If you’d like to be profiled, please get in touch.

Family: Christine Gillespie, VP and Associate Publisher of Knopf and Pantheon (pictured above left) and Melisa Coburn, writer, editor, and blogger, most recently for CafeMom. Together she and Chris write Shiny Brite, a local parenting blog. Parents of Jasper, age 6, and Magnolia, 4.
Neighborhood: South Slope
Zoned School: P.S. 295, 330 18th St., between 6th and 7th Aves., 718-965-0390. (Insideschools.org review here>>)

BB Kids: So you were in the Center Slope and then you moved to the South Slope?

Melisa: We were zoned for 321 and were in a co-op there, but we bought a house in Park Slope South five years ago.

And at that time your boy Jasper was one?

Melisa: He turned one right around the time we moved into the house, and we hadn’t really checked out the school situation too much, certainly not in any formal way. We just felt like we couldn’t wrap our minds around that then. And also I knew several people who really moved mountains to be in 321 and then, for whatever reason, weren’t happy. So we decided to not make ourselves crazy with it.

Was that a factor in moving? The fact that people weren’t happy with 321?

Chris: We weren’t trying to get away from 321, we just felt like what we heard didn’t tell us that it was such an amazing school that we couldn’t dare leave it.

Melisa: It was more that it was an 800-square-foot apartment, and I know lots of people live in that amount of space and have a kid or even two kids, but it felt too confining for us. The biggest reason that we moved was that we wanted more space. We wanted a house, and we did not want to move to the suburbs.

The fact that you were moving to another part of Park Slope–did you feel confident that it would be a good school? I feel like in Park Slope you have a comfort level in knowing that you are going to be zoned for a good school no matter where you are.

Chris: We propbably did. And we’d been in Park Slope for a long time–we were on the north end of the neighborhood, we were in the center Slope, we were on 9th Street for a while. I don’t think I’m exaggerating, but we really didn’t pay attention to the school situation. We looked in other neighborhoods, we looked as far as Greenpoint, and we didn’t pay as much attention to the schools as we should have, because we certainly know people who moved into districts that were not that desirable.

Melisa: I think it was kind of an afterthought. We were thinking about house and space and what we could afford. And then once we decided on this place, we did say, ‘You know it is Park Slope, and we have been here for a while and we do feel comfortable.’ And we did know we were in District 15 and it’s a big district and there are options. So after we had decided to move here we sort of said, yeah there is a certain comfort level in knowing that it’s familiar Park Slope, it’s District 15, so at least there are options.

So tell me about the school–it seems like a fantastic school.

Melisa: Yes! So when it became time to start thinking about the school situation and what we were going to do, we looked around and saw that 295 was the school we were zoned for. We read a little bit about it, and we went on the tour and we were pretty much the only family there that was zoned for the school. Everybody else was zoned for another school but trying to get into P.S. 295, and we thought, ‘That’s interesting.’

It’s P.S. 295, The Studio School of Arts and Culture, so there’s a focus on the arts in addition to the regular curriculum.

Is this a charter school?

Melisa: It’s not a charter, but it is a magnet school. There’s a real commitment to the arts. Students take dance and movement, drama, art, and music.

From what age?

Melisa: Pre-K. Our younger girl is there in Pre-K, and she has dance and movement today. And currently the school has a partnership with the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, so someone from the conservatory comes to teach music classes to various grades during the week.

And the school has a garden?

Melisa: The school has an edible garden that students and faculty and parent volunteers helped plant. It was funded by a grant from Slow Food NYC and the effort was really spearheaded by the school librarian, Susan Weseen, who is super committed to teaching the kids about green living, about where food comes from and having a connection to food. So this is a new thing, it was planted over the summer, and when the kids came back in the fall, there were all these wonderful fruits and veggies that they were able to harvest and eat.

Have you felt the influence of the school upon their development? Are they more artistic, or doing more creative things at home?

Chris: I would say they already were pretty artistic and creative but definitely I feel like the school has brought that out a little more. And also in terms of their development, the school has been great with our son (because he’s the one who’s been there two years, he’s now in first grade), in looking at his needs exactly and talking with us about what they feel he needs more of in the classroom. I feel like they’ve been very thoughtful about the way he learns and it’s felt very personalized there. And the nice thing about the dance and the drama is that it’s another way to direct their energy and focus in a really positive way outside of the playground. I feel like they really need that, and it helps them learn.

Melisa: It’s a small school, which is another thing that we’ve liked. I think the enrollment is around 400 for grades Pre-K through 5. And I feel that being at home, as the one who does a lot of the dropoffs and pickups, you feel that smallness, because everybody really does know everybody else and I think feels connected and vested in all of the kids succeeding and being happy. I remember going to a performance last year of Jasper’s, and one of the Kindergarten teachers–not his–she was arranging the kids and seemed to know every child’s name, in all three Kindergarten classes. I was really struck by that. It’s not just his teacher who knows him and who’s invested in him, it’s all the teachers across his grade. For being New York City it felt very small town and sweet.

Did you both grow up in cities?

Chris: I grew up all over the place. I moved probably every two years until I was 17, and I went to all different kinds of schools, I went to public, I went to private, single sex, co-ed. I lived in Houston and in Chicago, but not where I was in the inner city. It’s much more urban here.

Melisa: I’m from a small town in Texas. So I didn’t grow up in big-city schools either.

And based on your experience what’s different about sending them to a school in a more urban environment?

Melisa: School funding and budget cuts are an issue. As as parents we have to be participatory in terms of helping the school and teachers with materials and supplies and snacks. I don’t mind doing it at all, but I don’t think that was really the case for me growing up. I was in a somewhat affluent school situation and I think the schools were able to provide for themselves more than city schools are.

Chris: The thing that I love the most–and I know this isn’t the case for most parents–is the fact that we’re sending our kids to the school they’re zoned for. It’s two blocks from our house. We can walk them to school. Melisa is home, so if something comes up she can walk down the street. It really makes you feel like you’re part of a small community, like you’re in a little village in the middle of the city.

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4 Comment

  • Pingback: November 13 – 14: Weekend Links for Brooklyn Mamas « Shiny Brite

  • I share Melisa & Chris’ thoughts and feelings about PS295. It’s a special place where teachers consistently go the extra mile with caring and talent, the administration is smart and strong, parents offer their time and skills, and the children thrive. It’s not a fit for every child, but it is for each of ours. We feel fortunate to be zoned for this vibrant school and to be part of this diverse community. How ideal it would be to have a community experience such as this one extend into the Middle and High School years…

  • I share Melisa & Chris’ thoughts and feelings about PS295. It’s a special place where teachers consistently go the extra mile with caring and talent, the administration is smart and strong, parents offer their time and skills, and the children thrive. It’s not a fit for every child, but it is for each of ours. We feel fortunate to be zoned for this vibrant school and to be part of this diverse community. How ideal it would be to have a community experience such as this one extend into the Middle and High School years…

  • Pingback: February 5 – 6: Weekend Links for Brooklyn Mamas « Shiny Brite