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Queens public schools to house new pre-k programs

By Tom Momberg

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for universal, full-day pre-kindergarten demands 17,000 new seats citywide by fall, which is causing some head butting with Queens communities, where the greatest portion of new seats is needed.

Roughly 60 percent of new seats will be at early education centers or private day care, with the other 40 percent in public schools. Several new pre-K sites are underway in Queens, and many day cares, charter schools, private schools and public schools are either establishing new pre-K programs or expanding current ones.

There are 85 pre-existing half-day or five-hour pre-K programs in Queens that are converting over 3,200 seats for full-day pre-K, according to the city Education Department’s pre-kindergarten directory update.

Some families raised concerns over the elimination of too many half-day pre-K programs, because stay-at-home parents may not get to spend as much time with their children in their last year before kindergarten, but NYC DOE will still offer the flexibility.

“Last year many families who originally wanted half-day later changed their mind and enrolled their child in full-day programs after seeing the high-quality sites near them,” said DOE Deputy Press Secretary Harry Hartfield. “However, we seek to serve families across the city and will still offer some half-day seats in the 2015-16 school year.”

The mayor’s office has cited studies in its push for “Universal Pre-K for All,” showing that students enrolled in full-day pre-K are better prepared for kindergarten, and score better in math, language and reading.

But to make room for so many new full-day seats, the city is reaching beyond just those new pre-K programs that apply. The DOE selected three public schools in Queens to house new pre-K programs: PS 58 School of Heroes in Maspeth; Winchester PS 18 in Queens Village; and PS 100 Glen Morris in South Ozone Park.

The city has also planned temporary pre-kindergarten classes at five public schools in District 30, which covers Long Island City, Jackson Heights and Astoria as plans develop for a new stand-alone pre-K center to house those seats in later years.

The DOE has been reluctant to describe these locations as “co-locations,” for which an approval process is required, because the pre-K classes don’t really change the use of the public school buildings.

But some of the buildings might be giving up classroom or administrative space to be outfitted for the use of 4-year-old kids. The state-mandated PEP process for instances when two or more schools share a building requires applicants to inform the district community about the plans, gather public input and to gain approval from the Panel for Educational Policy. It’s about a six-month process.

District 30 CEC President Jeffrey Guyton said mayoral priorities have pushed the pre-K expansion on families without any community input, and he cited the bypassing of co-location requirements as a good example.

“The administrations in these public schools may feel that there is a new administration is coming in. It may work in some schools, but not in others. The city should have allowed the department to talk to communities to help determine these locations.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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