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DOE proposes boro school to broaden gifted program

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

For years Queens parents whose youngsters won a coveted spot in the city’s most competitive gifted programs have had to look outside the borough once their children reached middle school, but now the city Department of Education has plans to expand the offerings in Astoria.

There are five citywide gifted and talented programs open to students who rank in the 97th percentile on the DOE’s assessments, but the STEM program at PS 85 in Astoria only goes up to fourth-grade, meaning when students hit middle school they had to head either to Manhattan or Brooklyn.

“They had no destination within that school,” said Isaac Carmignani, president of western Queens’ Community Education Council 30. “That’s been the whole issue burning for about three years.”

And while the city provides yellow bus service for students within 5 miles of PS 85, 23-70 31st St., it will not bus them out of the district, adding another complication for parents as their students get older.

After several years of advocacy by borough parents, the DOE is proposing to expand the citywide program in Queens to eighth-grade, but the department wants to split it between two different schools, which has upset some parents.

The DOE is proposing to open a new gifted school in Astoria’s PS 17, 28-37 29 St., in the 2014-15 school year. In the beginning, it would be open to kindergartners and first- and sixth-graders.

The next year, it would admit second-graders and the new school’s sixth-graders would move seven blocks away to the Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts, 31-51 21st St., which would also open up to seventh-graders.

By 2018, PS 17 would hold all the K-4 gifted students and Albert Shanker would hold Grades 5-8.

“Anybody in their right mind would say, ‘Give me a K-8 in one building,’” Carmignani said. “We’re getting a lot of what we’re looking to get, or at least some version of it.”

The department has scheduled public hearings on the proposal for June 5 at the Albert Shanker School and June 11 at 17, both at 6 p.m.

The city Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on approving the proposal June 19 in Staten Island. If the plan is approved, the STEM program will be phased out by the end of 2018.

The competition is getting tougher for these coveted seats.

More than 5,000 students across the city tested in the 97th percentile this year, but since space is limited the 99th percentile is generally considered the bar for admission.

This year 771 students in Queens tested in the top percentile, up from 448 last year.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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