Western Queens is being rapidly developed, and parents in Sunnyside are taking proactive measures to ensure their children’s education does not lag behind.
Sunnyside Woodside Middle School Parents (MSP), an organization started last year to scout a new middle school for the area, has set their sights on a lot owned by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that is used to store lampposts. The lot is located on 37th Avenue and 48th Street, near a National Wholesale Liquidators and Toys R Us store.
Members of the organization are holding a rally at the site on Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. to ask the Department of Education (DOE) to reconsider building a middle school in the area after they claimed that an additional school was not necessary.
Founder Deborah McGowan said she began this organization after struggling to find a kindergarten for her daughter.
“We were waitlisted at all of the charter schools in our district and our zoned school,” McGowan said. “If it wasn’t for putting two classes in one classroom, I don’t know where my child would have gone. As a kindergarten mom, under this situation, I asked myself where would she go next.”
According to co-founder Sean McGowan, the site was proposed to the group by his doorman who has lived in Sunnyside Gardens for 25 years and has grandchildren in the area. He also began to worry when he attended a presentation at P.S. 11 in Woodside to learn about an expansion of the school in 2013. He was informed that several elementary schools were scheduled to open in the area to alleviate overcrowding but there was no mention of a new middle school.
Members of the group, including elected officials, met with the DOE in February and were told that a middle school in the area was not necessary. Students currently attend I.S. 125 in Woodside, which serves 1,733 fifth- through eighth-grade students in its main building and mini-building Q825.
The school has the capacity to serve 1,695 students and is currently 102 percent over capacity, according to the DOE. To alleviate the overcrowding, the DOE will expand P.S. 199 to absorb the fifth-grade students at the Woodside middle school.
The DOE has also made plans to remove Q825 and build an addition to I.S. 125 that will serve 655 students. It is scheduled to be completed in the 2017-2018 school year. This addition, along with new elementary school P.S. 343 in Sunnyside and P.S. 361 in Woodside, should reduce I.S. 125’s capacity to around 78 percent.
Members of Sunnyside Woodside MSP do not think this is enough and collected 630 signatures from residents who were concerned that there is an impending overcrowding crisis for middle schools in Sunnyside and Woodside.
The petition caught the attention of elected officials, who sent a letter to the DOE to express this concern. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, one of the officials who signed the letter, visited the site on Tuesday to show his support.
“This is an ideal location for a middle school for families in this neighborhood,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “We’re lagging behind in middle school seats, particularly here in CEC 30, so I support the parents who have been pushing hard for this.”
A spokesperson for the DOE said a key component of the agency’s strategy is “working closely with communities to strengthen schools” to ensure that students thrive.
“We have committed to building over 1,900 new seats in District 30 alone, and we will continue to listen to families in the district – and across the city – to help address their needs,” Jason Fink, spokesperson for the DOE said.