P.S. 40 holds Maker Faire

Finalists in the Junior Chef Competition for the best vegetarian salad with Chef Jenny Ecclestone (Photo by Ashley Naomi)

By Sabina Mollot

On Saturday, hundreds of families headed to P.S. 40 for the school’s first Maker Faire, organized by the PTA. The event, done in coordination with Salk School and MS 104, included a Junior Chef competition and activities for children like robot building, Battle Bots racing and stuffed animal making.

The event was open to the community and free, with organizer and PTA board member Benjy Kile remarking it was nice to be holding an event that wasn’t a fundraiser for a change. That said, some items, including food, were for sale, with vendors kicking back a portion to the school, but, said Kile, “It’s meant to be more of a community event.”

The Junior Chef event proved to be a big hit among event goers, who crowded the school’s auditorium for judging.

A chef who works with the school on a wellness committee, “Chef Jenny” Ecclestone, said the contestants, who’d already made it to a finalist round, had presented vegetarian salads. The winning entry, a kale salad, was prepared by Leyli Colley.

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‘Taste’ returns on Sept. 16

Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood, an annual street food fair/fundraiser held by the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, will be celebrating its fifth event on Saturday, September 16.

Around 20 restaurants from the neighborhood will be involved, offering tasting of signature dishes, under an open sky. The event, as always, takes place along one block, Irving Place between 17th and 18th Streets, from noon-4 p.m.

The money raised from the event goes to two local schools, School of the Future and PS 40.

Alan Krevis, president of GNA, said the event has grown each year in terms of how many tickets get sold, with mostly local people attending as well as some visiting from out of town.

“It’s grown tremendously,” said Krevis. “Last year we sold almost 400 tickets, so it is changing. We’re getting all the foodies. It’s becoming a destination.”

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A.P. now P.S. 40’s principal for a year

Stephanie Lukas (Photo by Maya Rader)

Stephanie Lukas (Photo by Maya Rader)

By Maya Rader

In the coming 2016-17 school year at P.S. 40 elementary school, assistant principal Stephanie Lukas will assume the role of acting principal while Susan Felder, the current principal, takes part in a year-long fellowship program. Daria Agosta, a fifth grade teacher, will take over as assistant principal in Lukas’s stead.

Lukas has been assistant principal for ten years. Before she came to P.S. 40, she taught kindergarten uptown, first at P.S. 151 and then at P.S. 165. The latter had a partnership with the Professional Development School program, meaning professors from Columbia University’s Teachers College would come to Lukas’s classroom to do research. In turn, Lukas received student teachers and could take free classes at Teachers College. Through her school’s connection to the college, Lukas worked with many other teachers and education professionals on joint projects, including co-teaching a seminar for people going into education. Lukas said that from this experience she saw, “that you can have an impact without just being in the classroom.”

Lukas and Felder knew each other before Lukas interviewed for the job of assistant principal at P.S. 40. When Lukas was working at P.S. 165, Felder worked at a school nearby. Felder worked with new teachers as a literary staff developer, so she would sometimes bring new teachers into Lukas’s kindergarten classroom to observe.

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Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood returns

Staff with Florian, a participating restaurant; Beth Tominello from the Fireman’s Hospitality Group, the restaurant’s parent company; James King, general manager; Brando D’Oliveira, executive chef and Emil Holzwarth, cook, serving the restaurant’s Sunday meatballs (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Staff with Florian, a participating restaurant; Beth Tuminello from the Fireman’s Hospitality Group, the restaurant’s parent company; James King, general manager; Brando De Oliveira, executive chef and Emil Holzwarth, cook, serving the restaurant’s Sunday meatballs (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Saturday, Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood, the annual food tasting festival and fundraiser, took place under a sunny sky on Irving Place.

This year, 20 restaurants participated and the event’s organizer, the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, sold 325 tickets. GNA President Alan Krevis said it was the best year so far — this was the third time the event was held — though he declined to share how much money the event raised. Net proceeds will be going to two neighborhood schools, PS 40 and School of the Future.

Meanwhile, the crowd of mostly neighborhood residents sampled dishes like rabbit meatball sliders from Ichabod’s, lobster rolls from Burger & Lobster, house cured Tasmanian sea trout from Barbounia and yellow tomato gazpacho from Adalya.

At the event was Claude and Shelley Winfield, residents of East Midtown Plaza, who said they’re regulars at many Gramercy restaurants, like Ponty Bistro and Casa Mono, and always on the lookout for new ones to try.

“Shelley and I try to support the neighborhood restaurants, otherwise you lose them,” said Claude, also the second vice chair of Community Board 6.

“If you use places in your area, all your streets are lit,” added Shelley. “A lot of people don’t know that.”

At TOGN for the first time was another couple who live in a building on the block where the event was taking place, between 17th and 18th Streets.

After sitting down at one of the streetside tables, both Liz and Mark Mindlin said they were impressed with all the options.

“The food is delicious so far,” said Liz, who added that while they often go to restaurants in the neighborhood, the event was the first time they’d heard of The Stand, a nearby comedy club and restaurant. “The food was very good,” she added.

A few of this year’s participating eateries also said the festival has been helpful in getting the word out about their businesses.

A returning restaurant was Ichabod’s, where Courtney Oakley, the director of events, said the event sometimes attracts foodies visiting from out of town (the W Hotel is nearby) as well as people from other neighborhoods.

She added, “This is something Brooklyn has always done very well, different festivals with great food. It’s wonderful that we’re having more of them in Manhattan.”

Greg Azzollini, one of the owners at the family-run Paul & Jimmy’s, agreed. “Just a few minutes ago I met someone who said he’d been in the neighborhood for 10 years and never tried us and now they’re going to come for dinner,” he added. “Plus it’s a nice way to meet other restaurant owners.”

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GNA and friends clean up Augustus St. Gaudens

On May 16, the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates and friends and supporters of PS40 held a Clean and Green event aimed at cleaning up Augustus St. Gaudens, the playground next to PS40 on Second Avenue. Numerous kids from the neighborhood were among the volunteer crew and there was also a caricature artist and balloon artist at the event. Additionally, a Latin music band who’d been busking on the subway played an impromptu concert.

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David Axelrod, former Obama adviser and Stuy Town native, releases memoir

President Barack Obama (right) with David Axelrod (second to left) and others in the Oval Office (Photo by Pete Souza/ White House)

President Barack Obama (right) with David Axelrod (second to left) and others in the Oval Office (Photo by Pete Souza/ White House)

By Sabina Mollot

David Axelrod, the former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, who’d also helped strategize campaigns for him and a slew of other elected officials, and who worked as an adviser to President Bill Clinton, has recently written a book about his professional experiences. The Stuyvesant Town native, whose introduction to the world of politics began with a historic visit from then-Senator John F. Kennedy to the street where he lived, has called the memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics ($35, Penguin). While in the midst of a multi-state media tour, Axelrod, now the director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, discussed his book, his background and his career with Town & Village.

What was growing up in Stuyvesant Town like for you?

I grew up reading your newspaper. It was a great experience. It was a different kind of community than it is now. It was pretty modest. A lot of World War II veterans and families, and it was really an oasis in the city. We all got together in the playground. I’m still friends with a lot of people I grew up with. Some of them came to my book event in New York and some of them are coming to my event in Boston. Back then there was a real sense of community in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper. The people you grew up with you stuck with from nursery to high school and ultimately through life. I have a great association with Stuyvesant Town and growing up there.

I was just there a week ago to film a piece for CBS about my book. We walked on 20th. My first address was 622 East 20th Street. We talked about the day in 1960 when JFK came and campaigned in Stuyvesant Town. I was noticing the change in the community, all the high end kind of stores and air conditioners in every window, because we didn’t have that back then. It looked like a very upgraded version of what I remember. When we lived at 622, my parents were mostly still married, but they did split up when I was eight. Then my mom and I moved to 15 Stuyvesant Oval. My mother was a writer and worked in advertising and my father was a psychologist. I had an older sister, Joan. At 622, it was a two-bedroom, so Joan and I shared a bedroom with a wooden divider.

As you know, Stuyvesant Town apartments are small, small kitchens, small bathrooms. By today’s standards, the apartments were very modest, but it seemed comfortable to me. My parents got divorced when I was 13 and my mom and I went to live at 15 Stuyvesant Oval. My sister was gone by then. My mom moved in 1948 and moved out in 2006 to an assisted living facility in Massachusetts. She died last year. (Axelrod’s father committed suicide in 1977.)

There was a lot of activity and my group was the Playground 10 group. There were parts of Stuyvesant Town that were predominantly Jewish and parts of Stuyvesant Town that were predominantly Catholic and parts that were predominantly Protestant, and the playgrounds roughly followed those ethnic divisions. Like Playground 9 was where the Catholic kids hung out. There were very few minorities back then.

I went to PS 40 and Junior High School 104 and Stuyvesant High School when it was still on 16th Street. In my day they were excellent public schools. I still have a teacher in my head who played a formative role in my life. It was at PS 40 and her name was Lee Roth. She brought poets to our classroom, well-known poets of the day, like Ogden Nash. In the classroom, she would engage us in discussions on current events. It really enriched my life and I feel a debt of gratitude to all the people like her.

JFK crowd at 1st ave

When JFK came to Stuyvesant Town in 1960, David Axelrod was in attendance. This photo, originally published in Town & Village, also appears in his book.

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Crowds head out for Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood

Farm 2 Me

Farm 2 Me at Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood

By Sabina Mollot

On Saturday, Gramercy residents and foodies got to sample dishes from over 20 local restaurants, which were all participating in the second Taste of Gramercy Neighborhood event.

The outdoor food tasting event and fundraiser for the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates took place along one block on Irving Place with plenty of foot traffic despite some rain later on.

Tickets ranged from $30-$80 in price with the proceeds going to two local schools: PS 40 and School of the Future.

Terry Dougherty, a longtime Gramercy resident, was one of those who’d gotten a ticket.

“It seemed successful last year and it’s something I look forward to,” he said. “I enjoy all kinds of things that promote businesses.”

Another guest was Larry Oberfeld, who lives on the Upper East Side.

“It’s a nice way to sample all the different restaurants in the neighborhood,” said Oberfeld. “It’s a different thing to do when the weather’s nice.”

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Stuyvesant Town dad: Rezoning put my kids in different schools

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

When Paul and Allison Walsh sent their daughter Jane to PS 40 for pre-K in 2003, they never thought there would be any problems sending the rest of their children there, especially since they haven’t moved from their apartment at 17 Stuyvesant Oval in 18 years.

Jane Walsh, 15;  Gavin Walsh, 12; and Nora Walsh will be 5 in June

Jane Walsh, 15; Gavin Walsh, 12; and Nora Walsh will be 5 in June

But now that their youngest daughter Nora is going into kindergarten this coming fall, the family has discovered that there won’t be a spot for her in the popular elementary school because, even though their address was in District 2 when they moved into their apartment, they are now in District 1, according to information from the Department of Education.

In between their oldest and youngest daughters, the Walshes had a son, Gavin, and the first signs of zoning troubles appeared when they tried to enroll him in the school in 2007. Although it wasn’t a problem for Jane to gain admission, Paul said that when they sent in the application for Gavin, they received a call from the school’s principal, noting that 17 Stuyvesant Oval was no longer in District 2.

They were able to get a zoning variance for him to attend because their daughter was still enrolled at the time, but since their son graduated from PS 40 in June 2013, the system effectively views them as a purely District 1 family now, even though Paul noted that they’ve spent the past ten years building relationships in the PS 40 community and have had two children in the school.

Although the zoning line between District 2 and District 1 for elementary schools seems to fall evenly at East 14th Street on the DOE’s online maps, the reality is more complicated. The line actually cuts through Stuyvesant Town around East 18th Street, putting a number of buildings in the complex in District 1 with the majority in District 2.

A memo that the Department of Education released in 2007 further complicated the line, noting that the DOE had been using incorrect information to make school assignments since 1984 for certain buildings in Stuyvesant Town. The memo said that the other odd-numbered buildings in 11 to 21 Stuyvesant Oval, which had been incorrectly assigned to PS 40, were actually zoned for PS 19 in District 1 and that the odd-numbered buildings in 239 to 273 Avenue C, also previously assigned to PS 40, were zoned for PS 61 in District 1.

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State English test blasted as unfair

Students, along with their parents, protest outside PS 40 on Friday morning, after taking tests that parents said had age inappropriate questions and didn’t reflect the school’s curriculum. Protests also took place at other schools. (Photo by Gabrielle Kahn-Chiossone)

Students, along with their parents, protest outside PS 40 on Friday morning, after taking tests that parents said had age inappropriate questions and didn’t reflect the school’s curriculum. Protests also took place at other schools. (Photo by Gabrielle Kahn-Chiossone)

By Sabina Mollot
Following the lead of a principal in Brooklyn, who held a protest outside her school over state English language tests that have been blasted as unfair, other schools have followed suit, with parents organizing similar protests on Friday morning.
At the heart of the matter, frustrated parents said, was that the recently issued tests had nothing to do with the Common Core curriculum students have been taught and had age inappropriate questions. Additionally, in some cases, a multiple choice question would have more than one answer that seemed like it could be correct. There’s also been a lack of transparency, test critics have charged, with no one allowed to see the tests after they’re taken. Yet another complaint was there was product placement in questions, with references to brands like Nike, Barbie and McDonald’s.
On Friday, parents and students at PS 40 participated at the protest, with the crowd stretched along the block on East 20th Street. Some of the kids carried signs that read: “Our kids deserve the best, we need to see the test.”
Council Member Dan Garodnick was also on hand, saying he too wanted the state Department of Education to make the test available to see. “It will help create a better test in the future and reduce the enormous stress on kids and teachers if they know what this is supposed to be like,” he said.
PS 40 PTA Co-President Kirstin Aadahl, who has a daughter in kindergarten at the school, said she hoped to see some change by the time her child is old enough to be taking the state tests. “I don’t want her to be studying for a test that’s meaningless,” said Aadahl. Last year the test had similar problems, she added. “PS 40 did well but many scores went down.” Then this year, teachers were told not to “discuss specifics” of the test.
Students take the tests in English language as well as math. The math tests are scheduled for April 30, May 1 and May 2. The tests don’t factor into students’ grades, but do have an impact on how teachers and schools are evaluated and also could help determine what middle or high schools a student is next placed in.
Another parent at PS 40, Linda Phillips, said she’s noticed that the teachers have been under pressure as well as students. “They’re being judged by this and we feel for them.”
Yet another parent, Deborah Koplovitz, slammed the test as being “a complete waste of energy” and said school funds should be spent elsewhere. “There should be more teachers, more paraprofessionals, more nutrition assistance for schools that make it better for children to learn,” said Koplovitz.
Still, parents at the school insisted it wasn’t testing they were against in general or the school’s curriculum, but simply this

Parents with Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Parents with Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

particular test, which was contracted to a firm called Pearson.
“The tests are not a good measurement of the skills or abilities of the students,” said Kara Krauze, another parent. “It’s harmful to subject students to testing that doesn’t represent their capacities.”
Another protest-site school was PS 59 on East 56th Street, which like PS 40 is in Education District 2.
That school’s principal, Adele Schroeter, had penned a letter along with another principal, Lisa Ripperger of PS 234, after tests were taken, urging other schools to participate in the protesting. In the letter she noted how few of her students opted out of the test this year, since administrators had felt confident that the test would be improved following other problems with the test given last year. But, she said, it wasn’t.
“Frankly,” said Schroeter, “many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing and deep comprehension for something quite different.” (See full letter here.)
A spokesperson for the state Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment on the protests.
While not done at every school, the protests may also be a sign that educators are no longer afraid of retaliation if they’re openly critical of an official policy. At least that’s the opinion of Shino Tanikawa, the president of Community Education Council District 2.
Referring to the principals’ widely circulated letter, she said, “I don’t think the two principals would have spoken out under Klein or Walcott but we now have a true educator as our chancellor.”
Tanikawa added that she was hoping “for a sea change.”

Hundreds head to Taste of Gramercy

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By Sabina Mollot

Taste of Gramercy, the first food tasting event to be held in the neighborhood on Saturday, was a success, with organizers selling over 400 tickets.

While the nonprofit group that organized it, Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, wasn’t yet sure how much had been raised, since some tickets were $30 while others were $40 depending on if they were bought early or not, the event’s turnout exceeded expectations.

“People seemed to like that everything benefits local schools,” said GNA member Gary Horowitz.

Money raised from tickets will go to two local schools, PS 40 and School of the Future.

For the price of a ticket, guests got to try five tasting plates of food from any of the 20 participating restaurants, with the event held street fair style under an open sky. Anyone could walk into the blocked off area, which was on one block on Irving Place, though to try the foods, guests had to have a ticket.

Some of the culinary offerings included tuna tartare cannolis from The Stand, compressed apple with smoked tomato from Gramercy Tavern, paella with shrimp from Casa Mono, oyster shooters in a chilled coconut ginger soup from City Crab and raw macaroons and other desserts from Pure Food & Wine. Paul & Jimmy’s was a popular stop with guests getting their plates loaded up with helpings of meatballs, gnocci and eggplant rollatini.

The event was coordinated with the company PTG, which has also organized events like Taste of Sutton and Taste of Tribeca.

“I just love this one. This is cute,” said Jackie Palmer of PTG about Taste of Gramercy. “For their first year, it looks great and we’re already talking about next year.”

The vendors also seemed happy with the event, which they donated their food to.

Adele Carollo, general manager at The Stand, a comedy club and restaurant on Third Avenue, said the event was a good opportunity to showcase the club’s menu, since most people don’t think of comedy clubs when considering where to go eat.

“Most comedy clubs have a really bad reputation for food,” said Carollo, adding that at The Stand, a focus has always been the menu as well as the entertainment. “So when we heard about this (event), we were into it.”

Eric Sherman, owner of the new Irving Place restaurant Ichabod’s, said it was a good opportunity to market the business to area residents as well as for the restaurant community to network.

“You create a camaraderie with local businesses. It’s nice to know your neighbor,” he said. Sherman, who became a restaurateur with Ichabod’s, which features an American bistro menu, in February, added, “Your neighborhood is everything. You’ve got to do what your neighborhood calls for. I’m looking forward to doing this next year.”

GNA board member Antonella Napolitano said the only downside to ToG was that a couple of local restaurant owners ended up feeling slighted when they weren’t asked to participate. However, she said this was only because the organization was limited to one block for the event.

“We’re probably going to expand it next year,” she said.