On Tuesday the Department of Education released a new proposal to school and elected officials for students in the citywide gifted and talented program called STEM, after the agency’s original plan met an onslaught of negative responses.
Under the new proposal, STEM students now at PS 85 will attend K-4 at PS 17 at 28-37 29 St. and then continue with the direction of the same principal but inside classrooms at IS 126 at 31-51 21 St. The administration will split its time between the two facilities, according to District 30 Community Education Council Co-President Jeff Guyton.
STEM 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.
Last week a proposal had STEM students starting at PS 76, known for its award-winning special needs program, instead of PS 17.
Parents immediately spoke out.
“The building is much too small to house another school,” said PS 76 parent Mary Haeberle, who has a third-grade student in the special needs program and is the treasurer of the PS 76 Parent Teacher Association. “The school provides what my son needs. If this happens, it would hurt him and all of the other kids who need it the most. Leave us alone.”
The DOE came back with the current proposal, which excludes PS 76. It isn’t accepted across the board, but is considered by the CEC as a good compromise especially since STEM students at PS 85, who entered the program in 2009 at its inception, will need a place to attend middle school next year.
“Obviously some tweaks need to be made, but this is an excellent compromise,” CEC member Valarie LaMour Shea said at a meeting between CEC members, parents and electeds’ representatives on Tuesday.
“I believe that while a split site is not ideal, this revised plan will better serve the needs of all the children who were to be affected by the DOE’s initial proposal,” said Evie Hantzopoulos, the Astoria parent of a second-grade STEM student and co-president of the Parent Association of PS 85, in an email. “I hope that the stakeholders from all the schools — PS 85/STEM, PS 17, and IS 126 can work together to ensure that the implementation of the new plan is collaborative and inclusive.”
The new proposal also stops Success Academy Charter from moving into IS 126, CEC members said.
PS 17 parents are concerned that filling the building with STEM students would decrease its chances for a community learning center grant, a federally funded program to teach English as a Second Language and provide tutoring during nonschool hours, particularly for students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.
Additionally, several years ago PS 17 had a principal who, according to the CEC, made some bad choices and has since been removed.
“We went through a disaster,” PS 17 Parent Association President Brenda Carrasca said. “Basically we are scared of that and don’t want the kids to go back.”
IS 126 PTA member Ben Sibett said two G&T programs at one school would be too much. IS 126 will house a new district G&T program next school year to increase middle-school seats for students in that program. Sibett also questioned on Tuesday if fifth-grade students would fit in at a school that is 6-8.
“I’m not convinced this program should be in 126,” he said.
The plan officially goes public on May 2, following which individuals have 45 days to submit comments. Their remarks will be given to the Panel on Educational Policy, the DOE’s governing body, a majority of whose members are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg. The PEP will then vote on the plan.