Parents and teachers from a citywide Gifted and Talented program and from its proposed new school buildings criticized a prolonged phaseout period and potential overcrowding at a meeting Tuesday night.
Under a new Department of Education proposal, STEM students will attend K-5 at PS 17 at 28-37 29 St. and then continue 6-8, under the direction of the same principal, at IS 126 at 31-51 21 St. The administration will split its time between the two facilities.
The transition to the new buildings will happen slowly over five years.
STEM students in kindergarten, first and sixth grades will move to PS 17 in the 2014-15 school year. The other grades will stay at PS 85.
Then beginning in the 2015-16 school year sixth-graders will relocate to IS 126. The middle school will grow from there.
Parents asked for a quicker transition saying students left at PS 85 will be taught by teachers left without a support system in a program that is waiting to move.
“What guarantee is there that we will have a rigorous education amongst so much instability?” said parent Angela Lee, who has children in the program in kindergarten and fourth grade.
Many parents of fourth graders said their children will have the least desirable situation since they will move in 2014 to PS 17 and then again a year later to IS 126. Instead they proposed the students be admitted into the district G&T program at PS 122, also in Astoria, without testing.
STEM — promoting science, technology, engineering and math — is one of five citywide G&T programs. Students must test above the 97th percentile to qualify, while students in district-based G&T programs like the Academy at PS 122 must test above the 90th percentile.
The program started in 2009 and ever since parents have been advocating for a K-8 building for the accelerated-learning children. By 2014-15 the students who started in the inaugural class will need a place to attend middle school.
Thus the current proposal.
“In my mind this does not accomplish our goal,” father Kevin Duff said who has a kindergartner and a third-grader in STEM. “We wanted one school.”
Parents from PS 17 also had concerns.
“30th Avenue is a heavy traffic street,” said PS 17 Parent Teacher Association President Brenda Larrasco. “We struggle now. What is going to happen when we share the building? We only have one crossing guard.”
Parents from the school also worried about how the co-location would affect their growing arts, bilingual and special education programs.
Florentina Dima asked how more students would affect her first-grade daughter. She has the beginning stages of dyslexia and a sensory issue that when she’s in over crowded spaces she covers her ears.
“It could be great if done right,” Dima said, “but it’s also very scary.”
The district’s advisory board, the Community Education Council, acknowledged these challenges at Tuesday’s meeting held at PS 17, but stood behind the proposal saying it’s the best option.