District 29 does not have middle school choice. If it did, that would mean all graduating fifth graders could select their intermediate education option, rather than being restricted by zone.
The District 29 Community District Education Council spoke about the possible change at its meeting last Thursday at PS 36 in St. Albans. If adopted before the end of the summer, it could be implemented by fall 2014.
The CEC has not made a decision on when it will vote on middle school choice, according to its president, Alicia Hyndman, but several members said it would only be after a thorough assessment of the district’s needs and community outreach is conducted.
Hyndman also said that some of the CEC members have gone to PTA meetings and handed out surveys to find out what parents in the district think of middle school choice. They also posted the survey on the Internet. So far, they have received 56 responses and 85 percent of those were in favor of changing from zoning to choice.
Vanessa Sparks, former vice president for the District 28 CEC and a resident of Jamaica, an area that has middle school choice, said the body took almost two years to study the educational system and the needs of students before making a decision.
She noted that under the middle school choice plan, it is the Department of Education that selects students for a given school, and sometimes without taking into consideration the uniqueness of each district. Sparks said under the best circumstances it should be the district superintendent and his academic staff, who make those decisions because they know the students best.
Melissa Hubbard of Queens Village, an education advocate, said she hopes the council will engage students, parents and educators not just at the middle school level, but throughout the education system, before making a decision.
“Will the school choice really address the weaknesses in our district as it relates to middle school?” Hubbard asked. “To me, that’s the heart of the issue. We are aware of the fact that not only in our district, but throughout the city, state and nationally, that it is at middle school age where a number of children are losing their skills.”
Kellinda Reed, a parent from Queens Village whose son is in the fourth grade at PS 268, said when she moved to the borough from Brooklyn, where she had middle school choice, she was surprised that the same practice was not employed in her new district.
“It’s very unfair,” she said. “We live in a democracy. I think parents should have a choice. Me, personally, I really would like my son to have a good education and to have a choice. ... Every middle school is not the same across the board — we all know that.”
Linette Townsley, a parent who has a son in eighth grade at PS 238, said the focus should be on helping schools in need, so that the DOE doesn’t continue its practice of closing down failing schools and opening new ones.
She believes that when schools perform poorly it’s not because the principals aren’t being creative or the parents aren’t getting involved, but a lack of resources and the bureaucracy of the Department of Education that are responsible.
“As taxpayers in the community, all the schools should be good,” Townsley said “We should not have to research and go out of our districts to have a quality middle school.”