As one of the most overcrowded school districts in New York — more than 60 percent of students attend schools with more kids than seats — residents of City Council District 21 were given some welcome news last Thursday during Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras’ State of the District address at the Langston Hughes Library in Corona.
Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who took office in 2009 as the first Latina to hold a Queens seat on the City Council, told an audience of more than 75 people that four new schools would be built in the area in the next five years.
The schools will be PS 287, PS 315, PS 311, all in Corona, and a fourth school in East Elmhurst that is still being negotiated. “Last week, we broke ground on PS 287 and it will open in 2013,” said Ferreras, who helped spearhead the “Too crowded to learn” campaign in an effort to get more schools built in the district.
Monica Gutierrez, a project support manager for the city’s School Construction Authority, agreed that overcrowding is still a major issue in the district. “School overcrowding is one of the biggest problems in Queens and especially in 21,” she said.
“We also need more middle schools,” said Jackson Heights resident and parent Diana Ochoa Fonseca. “IS 125 has more than 1,000 students in it. The whole school system needs to be revamped, but we have to improve funding.”
Still other parents complained of book shortages in district schools.
Gutierrez confirmed that PS 315, set to open in September 2014, will have 1,110 seats, and PS 311, set to open a year later, will add another 785 seats to the district. She said that the school still being negotiated will likely be a Catholic school.
Saying that “kids need to know how to use new technology,” Ferreras declared that she helped to secure $250,000 for overall technology upgrades from her discretionary fund.
A strong proponent of anti-bullying initiatives, Ferreras has participated in events such as the White House Bullying Prevention Summit, and also by asked the neighboring Mets to produce an anti-bullying PSA featuring Mets players.
The PSA will be played during games at Citi Field as well as broadcasted on the Met’s network, SNY. In addition, Ferreras says she participates in Respect for All Week to discourage bullying and harassment in public schools.
In an effort to bolster the health of children and adults in the community, Ferreras said she is helping to increase the number of green markets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, and to introduce programs such as Bike Bonanza, which encourages people to ride bicycles and get more exercise on a daily basis.
The councilwoman, pointing out the district’s dubious distinction of having the highest child obesity rate in the state, said she introduced legislation to require mobile ice cream vendors to post calories on their menus.
The community, Ferreras noted, is still in great need of revitalization. She pledged to secure more than $3 million to help transform Corona Plaza, on Roosevelt Avenue between National and 104th streets, by installing high-capacity trash bins, countdown crossing signals and traffic slow zones to help increase pedestrian safety.
Pointing to the ongoing $3 billion mixed-use development project at Willets Point, the councilwoman promised that the community will have chances for regular input.
She also emphasized the need for affordable housing, and support of jobs and small businesses in particular. “I will continue to provide workforce training and community jobs projects, including providing preparation courses for civil service exams,” said Ferreras, noting that her father held a job with the Transport Workers Union for many years and that the job provided her family with stability even during economic downturns.
And Ferreras reaffirmed her commitment to helping key business corridors such as Roosevelt Avenue and Astoria Boulevard. “We may need to rezone certain areas in order to attract mixed-use businesses,” she said.
Ferreras also spoke passionately about repositioning her district’s attractions in Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights as destinations for tourists.
“Our community should be a destination for tourists. We have Citi Field, the Queens Museum of Art, the Louis Armstrong House, the Hall of Science and the USTA,” she said. “These are great attractions and we need to let people know they’re here.”