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Queens Chronicle

Walcott promises help for crowded schools

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Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:41 pm, Thu Jun 9, 2011.

   After taking a tour of a Corona elementary school that has one of the longest kindergarten wait lists in the city, schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott promised relief for the abundance of overcrowded classrooms in central and western Queens.

   “We are very clear about the need in the area,” Walcott said while visiting PS 307 last Friday. “We’ve identified spaces to build, and we’re looking into it.”

   State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) and a number of educators met with Walcott at PS 307 to ensure he follows through on restoring thousands of seats in the city’s capital plan for school District 24.

   The city’s capital plan last year included 4,300 new seats in the district but Mayor Bloomberg cut that number in February to 2,200. Walcott restored the approximate 2,100 seats and added another 180. Those restorations will have to be approved by the City Council in order for them to be implemented.

   Peralta, Moya and District 24 Superintendent Madalene Chan said the additional seats are crucial in an area, and borough, plagued by overcrowded classrooms. PS 307, for example, had 100 students on its wait list for kindergarten this year — the second longest in the city, according to Peralta.

   “I want him to understand the fact that District 24 is the epicenter of overcrowding in the city,” Peralta said of Walcott.

   PS 307, also known as Pioneer Academy, opened a couple years ago to alleviate overcrowding at nearby PS 19, but the number of students moving into the district has risen so rapidly that the school has not been able to reduce class sizes at PS 19.

   District 24 has been one of the most overcrowded areas in the city for more than two decades, and The New York Times reported in 1995 that, “there’s a joke among teachers in central Queens that all roads from Kennedy International Airport lead to Community School District 24.”

   “Chancellor, we need a magic wand to build some buildings in Corona,” Chan said.

   Walcott said he and other education officials in the city are constantly looking for space to add classrooms in the densely packed neighborhoods that make up District 24, including Corona, Elmhurst, Maspeth and Woodside.

   “I may have done something sacreligious on Sunday,” Walcott joked. “I was sitting in choir in church, and I heard something about space in District 24, and I got out my phone and texted the head of the School Construction Authority.”

   The DOE says it expects to add more than 12,000 classroom seats in Queens in 23 new buildings over the next several years. The plan calls for about 4,500 seats in District 24 and another 3,000 in District 30, which represents much of western Queens, including Long Island City and Astoria.

   PS 307 Principal Cecilia Jackson told Walcott her school has been highly successful with parent participation and noted students have excelled academically. A group of the school’s students recently placed second in the nation in the kindergarten to third grade category in the National Chess Tournament in Dallas, Texas.

   “Maybe you can teach me how to play chess one day,” Walcott said to the group of 7-year-olds leading him on a tour of the school.

   The students looked at each other and laughed.

   “It takes a lot longer than one day to teach someone chess,” a student laughed.

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