Central Park East I

Grades: Pre-K, K-5
Staff Pick
1573 Madison Avenue
Manhattan NY 10029
Phone: 212-860-5821

Our Insights

What’s Special

Exploration and discovery-based approach

The Downside

School recovering from turmoil

Walk into Central Park East I, and you'll see collages and cardboard sculptures in the hallway, smell corn muffins baking, and hear kids chatting animatedly. For some, this flagship progressive school has too many field trips and not enough math drills; for others, it is a delight and refuge, a staunch rebel taking a stand for discovery and play in a bland, standardized testing world. No matter which side you're on, this tiny school has a critical place in the New York City public school system.

Central Park East was founded in 1974 by Deborah Meier, a visionary teacher, whose work has had a profound effect on education in New York City and the nation. Her belief that schools should be small, humane, democratic places where children learn how to learn and how to think for themselves helped spark a revival of progressive education in the city and the nation.

It's hard to imagine how revolutionary Central Park East and its two sister schools, Central Park East II and River East, were when they first opened, and how much influence they've had on education in the past four decades.

At a time when other schools had desks in rows, Central Park East had tables and sofas. At a time when other schools tracked children into classes for "smart" and "dumb" kids, Central Park East put kids of different abilities and even different ages into the same class (kindergarten and 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and 4th and 5th grades, are combined).

Instead of accepting racial segregation as a given, Central Park East has always sought, celebrated and attracted an integrated student body.

Even today, Central Park East represents progressive education in its purest form. Children put together vast cities from wooden blocks and build covered wagons or puppet theaters with hammers and saws. They sing, dance reels, and make sculptures of the human body complete with internal organs.

Teachers say much of what is taught here can't be measured by multiple-choice tests and most families opt out of state tests as a crude measure of child development. What this community values is the ability to work with others, the ability to find the answers to questions of interest and the ability to delve into projects in detail over a long period of time. "Work time" is central to the CPE way, an open-ended period of time during which children pursue creative projects of interest to them culminating in a fantastic museum showing off what kids can do, filled with volcanoes and buildings and dioramas.

The criticism of the CPE schools over the years--and of progressive education in general--has been that too many children fail to master basic skills such as the multiplication tables, dates in history, spelling and punctuation. Over the decades the school has clashed with new waves of standards or City Education Department mandates and new principals who want more focus on skills, more tests to measure progress, and more uniformity between classes.

Monika Garg, formerly an assistant principal at Pan American International School in Queens, was named principal in 2015 and her years were embroiled in conflict.

Where some see CPE as a standard-bearer for progressive education, Garg saw a school entrenched in bad habits. Early in her first year, a few parents shared anecdotes about children not knowing fractions or grammar in middle school. In turn, Garg asked her teachers to consider curriculum, more assessments and a checklist of skills that could follow a child from grade to grade. "If you're in a fish bowl," she said--visited by educators from as far away as Denmark--"how do you say [that] you need help or don't do this well?"

Garg made a series of steps that suggested she found progressive education itself suspect and the reaction from the community was swift; teachers spoke to parents, parents took sides, and before the end of her first year, a petition calling for her removal had been signed by over 65 percent of the community including the school's founder Deborah Meier. "My mistake here is I've hit of a lot of 'That's not the CPE way,'" Garg said. [Garg left at the end of the 2016-17 school year. The interim acting principal is Gabriel Feldberg, former assistant principal at Brooklyn's PS 10. He is a veteran educator, according to an article in the New York Daily News.]

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school is so small that resources are limited. After the reading and math coaches retired, Garg said she couldn't justify "leaning on a specialist" in the budget. There is some after-school help for about a dozen kids and we saw some one-on-one tutoring in classrooms.

ADMISSIONS: Families are encouraged to take a school tour and must fill out an application. Students are selected through a lottery.(Lydie Raschka, May 2016; principal update September 2017)

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School Stats

Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Is this school safe and well-run?

From 2019-20 NYC School Survey

How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
86% Citywide Average

From 2019-20 NY State Report Card

How many students were suspended?
0% Citywide Average

From this school's most recent Quality Review Report

Are teachers effective?

From 2019-20 School Quality Guide

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
86% Citywide Average
Years of principal experience at this school

How do students perform academically?

From 2019 State ELA+Math Results Summary

How many elementary school students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
51% Citywide Average
How many elementary school students scored 3-4 on the state reading exam?
50% Citywide Average

What is the Pre-K like?

From the NYC Program Assessment (CLASS and ECERS-R) Database through 2018-2019

Instruction: Teachers ask kids to explain their reasoning when they solve problems
Activities: Children explore art, music, sand/water, dramatic play and more
Language: Teachers talk and listen to kids in a supportive way
Interaction: Teachers ask kids good questions and invite back-and-forth conversation

Who does this school serve?

From 2020-21 Demographic Snapshot

Free or reduced priced lunch
Students with disabilities
English language learners
Pre-K seats
3-K seats

From 2019-20 School Quality Guide

Average daily attendance
92% Citywide Average
How many students miss 18 or more days of school?
26% Citywide Average

From 2020 School Directories

For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data · More DOE statistics for this school

Contact & Location


East Harlem (District 4)
Trains: 6 Line to 110th St; 6 Line to 103rd St; 2 Line, 3 Line to Central Park North-110th St
Buses: M1, M101, M102, M103, M106, M116, M15, M15-SBS, M2, M3, M96, M98


Feldberg, Gabriel
Parent Coordinator
Najah Velazquez

Other Details

Shared campus?
This school shares a building with East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School
Metal detectors?

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