By Patrick Donachie
Astoria parents in School District 30 have set off a firestorm by questioning whether elementary students who attend PS 122 will have automatic enrollment in the school’s “Gifted & Talented” middle school classes, a policy in place since a memorandum released by the Department of Education in 2013.
Numerous elected officials have sided with PS 122 to keep the program in its current form, but some parents in the district whose children do not attend schools with automatic enrollment want to see more available G&T seats.
News of the potential change came in a letter sent by Superintendent Dr. Philip A. Composto sent Dec. 8.
“In conjunction with Community District Education Council 30, and after consultation with parents, we have made the determination that all of our students deserve equal access to middle school G&T seats,” he wrote in the letter dated Dec. 8.
PS 122, located at 21-21 Ditmas Blvd., is a K-8 school with elementary classes for general and special education and G&T classes through 8th grade. Any student enrolled in PS 122’s elementary G&T program automatically enrolls into the school’s middle-school G&T program, according to the 2013 memo.
Community Education Council 30 Co-President Deborah Alexander said the potential change stemmed from questions parents raised to the CEC about G&T enrollment. The 2013 memo phased out automatic enrollment for all students in District 30 by 2019, except for those enrolled in PS 122, although Composto’s letter suggested extending automatic enrollment by one year if it was to be discontinued for PS 122 kids. In District 30, there are four G&T middle-school-classes at PS 122 and two at IS 126. Automatic enrollment of PS 122 takes up one of the six available classes, Alexander said.
Composto’s letter blindsided parents and lawmakers. State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said she had been assured that the 2013 agreement was still in place for the time being, but did not know how long that would be the case.
“I wholeheartedly support and I’m fighting for PS 122 to maintain its K-8 Gifted and Talented program, which has produced leaders in our community for almost three decades,” she said. “Every student should have access to a classroom that meets their academic needs. That means programs like the Academy at PS 122 should be a model for other schools and should not be disturbed.”
Keeping PS 122’s automatic enrollment would mean fewer seats would be available for other enrollees in the district, and Alexander said that many students in the district who would benefit from a G&T atmosphere might not be able to enroll if automatic enrollment continued. Students could also benefit from the additional assessment that would happen if automatic enrollment were removed, she said.
“The parents are pushing for this automatic articulation sometimes to the detriment of the children,” she said. She also said she worried that some parents viewed the G&T program as a “golden ticket” as opposed to a form of specialized education.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz expressed her support for PS 122 parents in a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña sent Dec. 19.
“Our parents made life decisions based on assurances of current policies by the Department of Education,” she wrote. “Parents who have reached out to my office have expressed the position that they chose PS 122Q for their children primarily because of the auto-articulation into middle school.”
Simotas, along with U.S. Rep Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and other elected officials also sent a letter to Fariña in support of PS 122 parents. A DOE spokesman said it was exploring potential changes, but would continue discussions with the community after the winter break.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona