A new Department of Education proposal for Gifted and Talented classes gives with one hand and takes with the other, District 30 parents and officials say, and they are furious about it.
The district that covers Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside has fought for more middle-school G&T seats for years. Recently the DOE came back with a proposal that proponents thought would add additional classes to the 11 already at the Academy for the Gifted & Talented located in PS 122, in Astoria.
The DOE said it would create up to five middle-school G&T classes at PS 126 in Astoria, modeled after the highly ranked Academy, to accommodate elementary school G&T students from PS 150 in Sunnyside and PS 166 in Dutch Kills.
That proposal required students currently enrolled in the elementary G&T program to retest to retain their seats in middle school, which caused a barrage of angry letters and picket signs at meetings from parents who said their children have always been guaranteed those spaces.
The DOE quickly reversed this and granted automatic matriculation for students already in the program. However, incoming kindergarteners will retest for middle school.
Originally PS 166 was not included in the new G&T program at PS 126, which was met with a similar response from upset parents and Community Education Council members. DOE eventually added PS 166 into the plan.
Now the DOE has a plan that angers parents once again. Last week’s proposal would cut the Academy from 11 to 3 classes, or about 60 seats, by 2019. The current proposal would be a net loss of three G&T classes in District 30.
“They are dealing with students now and we appreciate that, but from the get-go the point was to expand, and that’s not what this is,” a parent of two students from PS 166, Melissa Lee, said at the board’s meeting last Thursday.
DOE representatives said the pairing down is in response to the schools chancellor’s regulations that state students in PS 122’s elementary grades have the right to stay there for middle school if they choose. Taking away G&T classes would make room for general education.
But parents and teachers disagree with the regulation, saying that PS 122 was never set up as a kindergarten through 8th-grade school. Bill Biniaris, who graduated from PS 122 in 1984 and now works as a math teacher at the Academy, said he always knew the middle school classes were those students who tested into the Academy. CEC co-President Isaac Carmignani, whose children attended PS 122 and then left for middle school, also agreed with this assertion.
“The school has always been K to 6th and the Academy for the above grades,” Carmignani said. “The community has always known that.”
“You’ve just taken a community and pissed them off,” he added.
Parents appreciated that DOE representatives attended the meeting to discuss the proposal, school leadership team member Deborah Alexander said, though she added that on the whole the meeting was a “disaster.” She said the back-and-forth proposals are concerning, and that the new proposal will add many more general education seats than the G&T seats it takes away making the building severely over utilized.
“I think they 100 percent understood what we were saying, but they have their own agenda, whichsupersedes the desires of everyone — parents, teachers, principals, councilmen — in District 30,” Alexander said in an email after the meeting.
“Why are you going after one program that works,” CEC member Valarie LaMour Shea said. “Why are you trying to fix something that ain’t broke?”
The DOE has asked the CEC for a better plan.
“The DOE wants a proposal?” CEC Co-president Jeff Guyton asked. “Leave 122 alone.”