About two dozen students from the Voyages Preparatory High School program came out Tuesday night to ask Community Education Council 24 to protect their classroom space at the Elmhurst Education Campus on 94th Street.
And to rousing applause, they got the unanimous support they sought before a single student even got up to speak.
At issue is a proposal by the Department of Education’s Office of Portfolio Planning to colocate sixth- and seventh-graders for the future IS 311 with Voyages, which serves older students who either have returned to school or have had difficulty achieving in regular schools. Some are in their early 20s.
“If you are going to try to convince us when you get up to speak, you already have our support,” said Council President Nick Comaianni.
The DOE’s intention is for the middle-schoolers to share space with the high-schoolers until September 2015, when IS 311 is slated to open in Corona. The younger students would then move there.
While the council’s vote is not binding on the DOE, Comaianni said the panel rejected the proposal because of a dearth of specifics on just how the schools could co-exist.
“They’ve never showed us a plan for using entrances and exits, start times and dismissals,” he said. “They’ve never showed us a plan for using common areas like the cafeteria. Their idea was ‘just approve it and we’ll show you our plans.’ Unfortunately, with mayoral control the DOE cannot be counted on to tell the truth.”
For students and staff at Voyages, the opposition was far more personal. They carried signs into the auditorium at IS 61 Tuesday night saying that their classroom space and small, close-knit classes are among the reasons they have succeeded at Voyages where they had not before.
After the vote, student Jalyn Shaw, who said he foundered at Flushing High School, said the DOE plan could hurt students looking for the same opportunity he got.
“It’s a family unit,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t want middle-school students.”
“These kids are overage and undercredited,” said Sylvia Sanchez, director of counseling at the school. “This is their second chance.”
“I used to get 45s and now I’m getting 95s,” said student Veronica Velez, who added that she hopes to join the military upon graduation.
Sanchez said there are 260 students occupying the second floor of the campus building, which also houses the DOE’S Civic Leadership Acaemy.
Another resolution that got unanimous approval as well as a round of applause was the vote opposing the DOE’s plans to shut down the gifted and talented program at IS 61.
Discussion of IS 61 and IS 311 automatically led to discussion of overcrowding. District 24 is the most overcrowded district in New York City, and Corona, where IS 61 sits, is the most crowded area in the district.
Council member Peter Vercessi confirmed that the DOE is on target with four new schools under construction in Corona that will begin opening over the next three years, bringing a total of 3,123 new seats.
PS 287, with 432 seats, in on schedule to open in Sept. 2013, while PS 315, scheduled for September 2014, will seat 1,110.
PS 296, with 796 seats, will open in September 2015, along with IS 311, with room for 785.
“That will have an immediate impact on overcrowding here,” Vercessi said to the PS 61 parents in attendance, some of whom would like to see middle school choice in the district.
He and Comaianni also said that District 32 will be taking about 300 of its districted students out of District 24 schools, freeing up even more seats.
“Which is very good news,” Comaianni said.
The shift eventually will require some redistricting in the neighborhoods around PS 81 and PS 305 in Ridgewood.
As for parents’ claims that middle-school choice could alleviate some overcrowding, Comaianni said the math does not work, with IS 77 located in Ridgewood.
“Which is on the border of Brooklyn, about as far from here as you can go,” Vercessi said.
“If there’s a problem with your school here, I don’t want you busing your child five miles away,” he said. “I want to make your school better.”