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Queens Chronicle

DOE won’t downsize G&T program for now

Withdrawn proposal makes time to discuss redistricting and STEM

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Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:32 am, Thu Apr 25, 2013.

Now it’s back to regularly scheduled programming.

Late Monday afternoon Chancellor Dennis Walcott agreed to withdraw the Department of Education’s proposal to downsize the highly ranked middle school Gifted and Talented program at Astoria’s PS 122.

“We’ve listened, and we know what an exceptional job PS 122 is doing with its G&T middle school students,” a spokesman for the DOE said. “We’re going to take more time to think through the challenge, consider ways to ensure equity and excellence for all families and re-engage with the community in the future.”

The proposal would have slashed the 11- class program to three by 2019. The DOE said it had to do so due to a chancellor’s regulation that says elementary school students should be allowed to continue into middle school in the same building if possible.

However, individuals connected to the school insisted that PS 122 is unique and that families enrolled there know that students would not stay at the Astoria location for sixth through eighth grade unless they tested into the accelerated program.

For now the DOE agrees, but what that means long-term is uncertain.

Since November the DOE has proposed many different plans that were tweaked in the following months. Right now the department has decided to add six middle school G&T classes to PS 126 with automatic matriculation of students already in the G&T program at PS 126, PS 122 or PS 166. Incoming kindergartners will need to retest into the accelerated program once they hit middle school age.

“While this is a huge victory for the Astoria community, we have to be prepared for similar battles in the future,” Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said, adding that the withdrawal of the proposal is a testament to the teachers and parents who fought against it.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” he said. “They spoke out forcibly, but politely.”

Over the last several months a unified group spoke at town halls, community board meetings, Community Education Council meetings, rallies on the steps of the DOE office and Panel on Educational Policy meetings and together gained legal counsel and filed a petition with the state Department of Education.

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) issued statements supporting the DOE’s decision to not change PS 122 for now.

District 30 CEC Co-President Isaac Carmignani agreed that the DOE has said it will “pause” — relating it to the Korean War armistice agreement — on a PS 122 plan.

The pause gives the CEC a much-needed reprieve so it can begin talks about the citywide G&T program called STEM at PS 85 and the rezoning of five to six middle schools.

These talks should have started in January, Carmignani said, but for the last three months the G&T plan at PS 122 has dominated the CEC’s time.

The DOE has told PS 85 families that it will expand the program from a K-5 to a K-8 school, but has not given specific details.

The citywide G&T program is more selective than the district program. Students must score in the 97th percentile, while for district programs students must score in the 90th.

There are four citywide G&T programs, but STEM is the only one in Queens.

The DOE said it will meet with the CEC about the issue by the end of the month.

Redistricting’s intentions are threefold.

It would alleviate overcrowding at some of the middle schools. District 30 is one of the city’s most crowded districts.

Secondly, it would fill new buildings, which are the K-8 school, IS/PS 312, opening this year a few blocks north of Gantry Plaza State Park; PS/IS 404, which will also open this year in Hunters Point South, the development area where ground broke earlier this year on a large-scale housing complex; and IS 297, which will open next year in Jackson Heights.

Lastly, it would address the long-standing issue of elementary school students in the district attending middle school in neighboring District 24.

“We want to clean up an issue where District 30 kids have been going to District 24,” Carmignani said. “Now we have waited too long. Maybe we should just wait until next year, instead of rushing and pushing it down anyone’s throat. There’s probably some good arguments on either side.”

The DOE will be meeting with the CEC on Wednesday to discuss redistricting.

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