By Kathianne Boniello
School Board 26 in Bayside has been considering a proposal to shift elementary school students in several Fresh Meadows schools to a nearby middle school to improve the quality of instruction in that corner of the district and relieve some of its overcrowding.
The board held a public hearing on the issue last week just prior to its regular monthly meeting at MS 74 in Bayside. Between 50 and 60 people, including parents, teachers and some elementary school principals, spoke out on the plan.
Queens has long been regarded as having the most overcrowded classrooms in the city, although School District 26 is still — by comparison to the borough’s other districts — less crowded. Some parts of the top scoring school district, which covers Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Glen Oaks and parts of Flushing, Auburndale, Fresh Meadows and Bellerose, are more crowded than others.
The issue before School Board 26 is whether or not to “decap,” PS 26 in Fresh Meadows, PS 173 in Fresh Meadows and PS 178 in Jamaica Estates as well as JHS 216, by next fall. Decapping is the process of relocating the oldest grade from one school and moving those students up to the next school.
In the proposal, decapping would result in moving sixth graders out of PS 26, PS 173 and PS 178 and moving them into JHS 216, also in Fresh Meadows. Those elementary schools would then include grades kindergarten through fifth. Decapping JHS 216 involves shifting ninth graders out of that school and moving them into high schools, making JHS 216 a sixth-through eighth-grade school.
School District 26 Deputy Superintendent Anita Saunders said decapping would allow the district to improve instructional quality for students, because older students would be able to take advantage of resources in higher schools. With sixth graders out of the elementary schools, Saunders said, those buildings would gain space and may be able to restore some services lost to overcrowding.
Saunders, as well as teachers and parents who spoke at the School Board 26 meeting, said decapping the schools would allow elementary schools to replace libraries, art rooms and science labs lost to overcrowding. Older students shifted to middle schools or high schools would have more resources to draw from, including a wider range of specialty courses and language classes, those in favor of the plan said.
While most parents who spoke at the Oct. 24 public hearing seemed in favor of decapping the elementary schools and JHS 216, the proposal was criticized by School Board 26 member Dr. Steven Barlow, who said parents should be given the option of sending their children to a higher school or maintaining the status quo.
“Let’s leave the opportunity for parents to make their own choice,” said Barlow, who questioned whether or not overcrowded high schools could accommodate students pushed there by decapping. “One size does not fit all.”
Board member Tina Glowatz said she was concerned about the lack of space in the district as well as advancing students to higher schools when they might not be ready.
“I’m extremely concerned about sending our kids to high school when they aren’t ready,” she said. Glowatz urged that the proposal be given careful consideration so “that nobody is left out in the cold.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.