By Tom Momberg
School District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto called a community engagement meeting Monday to discuss the future of PS/IS 78Q, the Robert Wagner School, in response to parent and teacher outcry over a long list of wait-listed children for next year’s enrollment.
For children zoned to go to school at PS/IS 78, 48-09 Center Blvd, there was a 50-child wait list for kindergarten classes alone. Over the last couple of weeks, parents circulated a petition calling on the city Department of Education to build more schools in Long Island City, collecting over 1,000 signatures.
So it was no surprise when nearly 300 parents, children and educators piled into the school’s auditorium Monday to see what the district intends to do about the overcrowding classrooms.
“This is the place to be — like “Cheers “— I get it. Everyone wants to be here, and that’s a good thing. That tells me what a great school, great principal and great teachers we have here,” Composto said.
Truncation was the main concern on everyone’s minds — meaning that grades six through eight would be eliminated to make room for the increasing numbers of elementary students. But Composto tried to assure everyone that he and Long Island City’s elected officials were doing everything in their power to make sure that does not happen.
He guaranteed there would be a seat for every child zoned for PS/IS 78 for next year, and that if truncation were to happen, grades six through eight would be phased out starting the following years. Every sixth grader starting at IS 78 for the 2016-17 school year would be able to continue through eighth grade in that instance.
The opening of new rooms in the second building of PS/IS 78 will increase the number of kindergarten classes from four to eight, according to Composto. The number of first through eighth grade classrooms will remain the same, and class sizes may increase.
Composto recognized that accepting all students who apply would not be sustainable for more than one year. He said the DOE is working hard to identify both short-term and long-term solutions going forward. That might involve the opening of a couple of classrooms in first-floor commercial space, the building of a new school building or more.
District 30 is working hand-in-hand with the DOE to come out with a new capital plan by October or November.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said truncation is a last resort. He said as one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city, District 30 is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top priority.
In response to some concerned parents about the lack of planning that went into the foreseeable increase in LIC housing, Van Bramer said there indeed was an error on behalf of a former city administration and the School Construction Authority in preparing new schools.
“It’s not just about money. It’s about planning,” Van Bramer said. “It’s about a failure to act. When this school opened, and they did whatever study they did, they apparently identified no new need: That was the critical error the SCA made.”
Van Bramer said a failure to prepare schools for all the new residential construction in Long Island City won’t continue any longer.
“Every single conversation I’ve been having with Mayor de Blasio’s team, all of City Planning and SCA is talking about this very issue — this crisis that we saw coming years ago, but that they didn’t act on. Now everyone is in agreement that something has to be done before an even larger crisis blooms.”
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb