Vote on Queens G&T Program Divides Parents

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The Panel for Education Policy voted on Wednesday to approve a new citywide Gifted and Talented school in Queens but house it in two separate locations, a move that left the parents who had pushed for the program divided over the final result.

Isaac Carmignani, co-president of the Community Education Council that serves this district, said the proposal from the D.O.E. was a good one.

"There are a lot of trade-offs, because ideally we would love to have a K through 8 school in a homogeneous building," Carmignani said. "But we can't let the best be the enemy of the good."

Currently, the only citywide G&T; program in Queens is the STEM Citywide Gifted Academy at P.S. 85 which serves children from kindergarten through fourth grade. Since the program began in 2005, parents have advocated for a program that would serve gifted students up to eighth grade, similar to the Anderson School in Manhattan.

The Department of Education officials proposed and then approved the placement of kindergarten through fourth graders in Astoria's P.S. 17 Henry David Thoreau, and the fifth through eighth graders in I.S. 126 Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts. It was both the timing and approach to the transition that struck some parents as problematic; the transition of grades to their new locations is slated to occur from 2015 to 2018.

"We're actually heartbroken," said Sarah Reisner, a parent of a kindergartner and fourth grader currently in STEM. "We think the D.O.E. has let us down. They're not really allowing any critical mass at these schools to build a foundation. Having it start so small isn't enough."

The majority of kindergarten and fourth grade parents at STEM are unhappy with the proposal because kindergarteners would remain in P.S. 85 for the longest period of time, while current fourth graders would be starting middle school with kindergarten and first graders.

"The middle school transition is an incredibly turbulent time, but should include sports teams and language classes," said Tim Smith, the parent to a kindergarten and fourth grade student at STEM. "We're very concerned that the program in its first year will be skeletal. Also, the lower grades have to stay five years in the phase out program and then join the new school."

D.O.E. spokesman Devon Puglia said that not all stakeholders in any proposal will agree 100 percent.

"This proposal adds citywide Gifted & Talented seats. That's what this community has asked for, and that's what we're delivering," Puglia said in an email. "We've received extremely positive feedback on this proposal to add additional Gifted & Talented seats to the neighborhood. The proposal is good for the community and good for our system of great schools. It's that simple."

Jeffrey Guyton, the other co-president of the CEC, said he would try to fix the rift between parents created by the vote.

"There certainly in my view was a failure to sit down with the parents who wanted an alternative plan and have a back and forth," Guyton said. "We're going to watch all elements of the transition and if there are serious problems, I will certainly speak to the superintendent and the D.O.E."

For now, parents who are unhappy with the plan said they are considering other options.