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Proposed High School Angers Parents at Gifted and Talented School

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 04:23 PM

Parents gathered in the auditorium of the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars on Tuesday morning were not happy.

Their school, one of only three citywide gifted and talented programs in Manhattan, shares space in an East Harlem building with three middle schools. They learned recently that one of the schools, Esperanza Preparatory Academy, wants to expand to a high school, and they are concerned that the expansion will cause overcrowding and bring other problems.

Tuesday's meeting was called by the Education Department last week after parents flooded the office with calls and e-mails expressing concern about the addition of high school grades when their school has children as young as kindergarten.

Many of the parents at TAG, as they all call the school, became emotional when they talked against the addition of a high school at their shared location.

“When it comes to my kid, I am standing up 101 percent because that’s my life,” said Neftali Sprott, 35, who has a kindergarten student at the Talented and Gifted School and lives in the Bronx. “TAG is a family, and everybody else’s kid in here are just like my own kid.”

The main points of discussion between parents and the two representatives from the Education Department were space, security and shared resources. TAG shares the cafeteria, auditorium and gymnasium with Esperanza as well as with the Global Neighborhood Secondary School and a District 75 program.

Parents said they were concerned that bringing in older children would create a different atmosphere at the school, which now has only younger children. The conversation became so heated that, at times, the city officials were almost drowned out.

“If you’re not going to let us speak, we can leave,” Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning for the Education Department, said when the discussion turned into unorganized yelling. “We are here because we respect your concerns; we expect that you will respect our turn to speak.”

One parent asked if the Education Department had consulted the police on local gang activity in the area and how that might affect the elementary school children.

Patricia Saydah, a parent of a first grader at the Talented and Gifted School and chairperson of the School Leadership Team, listed seven gangs she said were known to recruit from local high schools.

Other parents concurred with her.

“I am from the so-called 'hood too, and I know what’s its like being in high school with all the stuff going on,” said Mr. Sprott. “They have gangs and they are recruiting little kids.”

Yael Kalban, an associate portfolio manager for the Education Department, said Global Neighborhood Secondary School was originally planned to include a high school.

“There was space in the building and already the anticipation of there being a high school here,” Ms. Kalban said. “That’s one of the reasons this seemed like a natural fit.”

Ms. Rose said the additional high school grades would be added in September, when the current eighth graders moved to ninth grade. The next formal hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 7 at the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars. The Panel on Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on Dec. 14.

Other parents have said that with seats in gifted and talented programs so limited throughout the city, it would have made more sense to allow TAG to grow instead of trying to put a high school into the building. In 2011, organizers for the protesting parents said, only 300 seats were available for the 1,803 kindergarten-age students whose test scores qualified them for the citywide gifted program.

TAG received a B on this year’s Education Department progress report, and parents vowed to keep fighting the high school expansion plan.

“This is an amazing school because it represents a cross section of New York and it's what a gifted and talented program should look like,” said Kathleen Slocum, 41, the parent of a kindergartener from Washington Heights who got emotional at the meeting. “It's worth the fight.”

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