By Anna Gustafson
The city Panel for Educational Policy was poised this week to vote on a plan to add a sixth-grade to Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School in Briarwood, and residents said they were concerned about the final input despite recent concessions from city officials to cap the school’s population at 800 and push back the reconfiguration date.
Community Board 8 members have urged the PEP to hold off on its decision slated for Tuesday in order to hear further from students, staff and parents.
“To make any decision now would be to disenfranchise those stakeholders from the process,” CB 8 Chairman Alvin Warshaviak wrote in a letter to city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “Postponement of a decision will provide more time to administrators, staff and parents to formulate a preliminary operational plan. Such efforts would provide a clearer understanding of what this change will mean for the students, especially as it relates to their education and safety.”
The city Department of Education proposed making the District 28 school a sixth- to 12th-grade institution for the fall of 2011. Next year, the school will move from its current location at 150-91 87th Road to 160-20 Goethals Ave. in Briarwood.
At a public hearing last month, residents aired concerns there would be more than the 800 students originally planned for at the school, which they said would create more traffic in an already congested area. Following the hearing, city officials capped the school’s population at 800 and said the plan, if passed, would be implemented in the fall of 2011 instead of 2010 as once suggested.
“When we started negotiations for the school’s new home, my office and the community asserted that the number of students be capped at 800 to guarantee the school’s learning environment remained intact,” City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said. “While we reached agreement with the DOE on that number based on a grade 7-12 structure, we are pleased the DOE will honor the 800 student cap when adding a sixth-grade to the school.”
The grade expansion will add 80 to 100 sixth-grade seats in District 28, according to the DOE. Residents criticized this plan, saying the district needs additional high school, not sixth-grade, seats to alleviate overcrowded classrooms.
“Queens is starving for high school seats,” Kathy Forrestal, who lives near the school, said at last month’s hearing at Gateway.
Gateway Principal Cynthia Edwards has called adding the sixth-grade “necessary” to strengthen a school that was awarded Silver Medal status by U.S. News & World Report in 2010. The status indicates the school did not place in the top 100 secondary institutions in the country, but performed well in preparing students for college.
“It helps to build learning bridges from one grade to the next,” Edwards said at the hearing. She noted the move would enable the students and teachers to build better bonds because they are together for the students’ entire secondary career.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.