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Queens Chronicle

Two Schools To Replace Parsons Junior High

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Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007 12:00 am

As of June 30, Parsons Junior High School will no longer exist. Despite pleas from some members of the community, the building will reopen as two schools —the Robert F. Kennedy Middle School and the Queens School of Inquiry — in the fall.

“RFK has only Levels 3 and 4 ratings (the highest academically),” said Ken Cohen, who had been fighting to keep Parsons open. “Parsons has loads of Levels 1 and 2 so it is a concern, but the Department of Education has promised to bring our students up to standards.”

Cohen, president of the Flushing Suburban Civic Association, was chairman of the Coalition to Preserve and Improve Parsons Junior High School 168. The school, at 158-40 76th Road, currently enrolls 237 students and has a capacity for 900.

It has been losing enrollment primarily because the Department of Education two years ago said that zoned youngsters could choose to attend nearby I.S. 25 or J.H.S. 237 instead. Parsons has long been the smallest junior high school in District 25.

In 2005, the new Queens School of Inquiry opened on part of the second floor of Parsons Junior High, with nearly 80 sixth graders. The School of Inquiry now has 158 sixth- and seventh-graders and a new grade will be added each coming year until the 12th grade.

It is funded by the Bill Gates Foundation and partners with Queens College. Its aim is to help students learn to question, reflect and refine their way of thinking.

Robert F. Kennedy Middle School has an enrollment of 168 students and currently shares space with the Robert F. Kennedy High School at 75-40 Parsons Blvd. The middle school will become the zoned school for students living in the Parsons Junior High School neighborhood.

The Parsons building will be known as the Parsons Educational Complex. The Parsons Junior High principal, Judy Gewuerz, will be assigned elsewhere.

Cohen’s main concerns are integrating the Parsons neighborhood students with the Kennedy students and ensuring that the quality of education remains high. “We are moving slowly on this and only time will tell how it works out,” he said. “We hope that black students aren’t targeted as we’ve heard they have been at R.F. Kennedy.”

Cohen expects about 60 current Parsons Junior High School students will attend R.F. Kennedy Middle School. Parsons housed seventh through the ninth grades and will now have sixth through eighth in the new one.

Melody Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said that Parsons Junior High had not shown any real enrollment growth since 1999. In addition, as of 2006, the school was listed as in need of improvement for the second year for special education; it has also required academic progress for math in its third year, also for special education.

In 2006, only 32.2 percent of Parsons students scored at the highest levels (3 and 4) on standardized exams in English, and only 36.8 percent in math. “The school has not been performing well and they have been losing students,” Meyer said. “With RFK moving in, it gives (Parsons) students a chance to grow there.”

She added that the Department of Education has been meeting with Parsons parents to discuss the changes. “They are pleased to have new options,” Meyer said.

One person sorry to see Parsons Junior High School close is Jackie Cohen, no relation to Ken Cohen, who runs the Parsons Beacon Community Center at the school. The program has been there since 1998.

The beacon program’s annual street fair, which will be held Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. on the school grounds and 76th Road, will honor Parsons Junior High, which opened in 1953.

“The beacon program will remain and we are hoping for more participation since there will be double the number of students,” she said. “But we always had a good relationship with Parsons.”

Jackie Cohen is looking for former students and staff to bring memorabilia for a slide show presentation at the street fair. She can be reached at (718) 820-0760.

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