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Queens Chronicle

Prep for Cross Bay pre-K center in fall

New city-owned preschools worry established operators in district

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Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2019 10:30 am

Construction on the street-level space beneath Planet Fitness began several weeks ago and stirred intense interest — and not a few rumors — in Howard Beach.

The city’s Department of Education last week confirmed that the store-front is being converted into three classrooms for pre-K students, ages 4 and 5, under a contract with the building’s new owners, Manhattan-based Gindi Capital.

The new school will accommodate 45 children starting next September, a DOE spokeswoman said.

The opening of the new school raises questions about how it will be able to guarantee the safety of kids on busy Cross Bay Boulevard during drop-off and pickup times.

As well, how will the kids fare with the noise from a busy gym directly overhead?

“I’m not convinced this was the right place,” said Joann Ariola, head of the Howard Beach Lindenwood Civic Association. “I’m worried about parents triple parked on Cross Bay and meanwhile cars are all stacked up behind them.”

But the opening of a new school in Howard Beach for toddlers is just one part of a bigger story about early education unfolding now in South Queens.

The Cross Bay center is just one of four new pre-K and 3-K centers opening this fall in District 27, which covers Woodhaven, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Howard Beach and the Rockaways.

Nearly 500 new seats in all are being added, according to the DOE spokeswoman.

In a break from the past, the new facilities are all funded and operated by the DOE. The agency has overseen and funded the majority of small, independent early-age schools — run largely by churches and synagogues — in the past but is now taking over operations itself.

Alarms are going off among the independent schools, which fear the new centers will siphon off students and ultimately put them out of business.

“They’re taking all our clients,” said Gail Accenturi, director of the Little Dolphin School in Ozone Park, about the buildup of new DOE schools.

“I’m sure the driving force behind this is not to drive us out of business,” she said. But that has not alleviated her concern about a city-run pre-K opening this fall a few blocks away in the massive former medical center for Local 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union.

Two other city-operated centers are scheduled to open in the district this fall, at 100-02 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park and 87-49 88 St. in Woodhaven.

The next few weeks will tell if the DOE will favor its own schools over the independent ones when assignments are made.

The deadline for parents to accept enrollment invitations for pre-K and 3-K centers in the city is tomorrow, May 31.

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