Year in Review: Queens’ top education stories of 2021

QNS is looking back at some of the top education stories of 2021.

This year was filled with ups and downs for students, parents, teachers and school administrators who were still learning how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and were presented with challenges as the city moved to reform initiatives that impacted the school community. 

QNS is taking a look back at the events that unfolded this year in education in Queens. Here are some of the top education stories of 2021.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza resigns from post 

Chancellor Richard Carranza

After serving as the helm of New York City’s public school system for three years, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza resigned from his post in March to focus on self-care and grieve the loss of family members and friends to COVID-19. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” Carranza said. “I came to New York City three years ago with a mission to help the Department of Education reach its full potential and of course to serve and lift up all, not just some, but all of our public school children.”

Although he stated that the city’s public school system was stabilized, Carranza received backlash from Queens parents and elected officials for his efforts in reforming both the Specialized High School Admissions Test and Gifted and Talented program, as part of his mission to desegregate schools and bring equity into the city’s public school system.  

According to reports, arguments between the chancellor and Mayor Bill de Blasio over the Gifted and Talented program may be a reason behind his departure. 

Far Rockaway native Meisha Porter becomes new schools chancellor 

New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter (Photo courtesy of New York City Department of Education)

Following Carranza’s resignation, Meisha Porter became the first Black woman to lead the New York City public school system.

“We are going to build up communities together and bring people together to serve our students,” said Porter, a 20-year veteran of the New York City public school system. 

As chancellor, Porter vowed to remove barriers and direct resources where they are needed the most, and to communicate clearly their shared goals and commitments at every school, in every neighborhood and in every borough. Porter had pledged to be a “leader, teacher and principal” promising to do everything to reopen high schools, and address trauma and academic needs amid the pandemic. 

DOE removes Maspeth High School principal involved in grade fraud scandal

Maspeth High School is located at 54-40 74th St. (Screenshot via Google Maps)

The city’s Department of Education (DOE) in July removed Maspeth High School’s principal from his position following accusations of his involvement in a grade fraud scandal.  

Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir was accused of changing incomplete grades to passing grades and awarding undeserved credits to students. 

According to a DOE spokesperson, those claims were substantiated by conducting nearly 100 interviews with students, staff and parent witnesses. Following the DOE’s investigation into Abdul Mutakabbir, the department served him with disciplinary charges and sought to terminate his employment.

Months later, another report found other Maspeth High School staff participated in inappropriate behavior at the school.

Queens electeds and parents protest elimination of Gifted & Talented program

Queens lawmakers and parents protest the termination of the Gifted and Talented program in New York City public schools at P.S. 203 in Bayside on Friday, Oct. 15. (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed)

After Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the end of the G&T program in October, several Queens lawmakers and parents protested the termination of the program outside of P.S. 203 in Fresh Meadows. 

“I’m afraid for my youngest child next year if the G&T program is cut,” said Bayside resident Jie Liu, a parent of two children who are in the program. “I think they should expand the program citywide, and not cut it because a lot of kids want to get a better education and more opportunities.” 

City Council Democratic nominees Sandra Ung and Linda Lee had criticized de Blasio for scrapping the program without consulting parents, educators and stakeholders in the community. According to the mayor, G&T students will remain in their programming without disruption to their learning, and the city’s new plan, Brilliant NYC, will be phased in for grades one through three. Lawmakers stressed the importance of expanding the program in every school district and that the elimination of the program has sent thousands of families and students into limbo and uncertainty. 

Success Academy Ozone Park Middle School opens with ribbon-cutting

Congressman Gregory Meeks, a student and Success Academy Founder Eva Moscowitz, cut the red ribbon at the new Success Academy middle school in Ozone Park. (Photo courtesy of Success Academy)

After waiting for more than two years for a permanent middle school, parents, students and educators celebrated the opening of Success Academy Ozone Park Middle School with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October. 

The space for the new school, which opened in August and serves 250 Success Academy Queens fifth- and sixth-grade students, was provided by the city in late May, after years of tenacious advocacy by thousands of parents and educators who received support from elected officials. The city agreed to provide the building, a former Catholic school located at 109-55 128th St., in May, when the students’ temporary co-location at I.S. 238 in Hollis was about to expire. 

Archbishop Molloy High School creates Council for Diversity and Inclusion 

Photo courtesy of Archbishop Molloy High School

Archbishop Molloy High School’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion was created as a response to the reports of racism and sexism past and present students experienced while at the Briarwood private institution.

The Catholic Marist school came under fire in June when students and alumni began contacting the school for not addressing the killing of George Floyd and protests impacting the nation as well as some of their own students. The Council is driven by a group of alumni, parents, faculty, staff and industry experts who are committed to cultivating a truly inclusive institutional culture at the high school.

Flushing Townsend Harris High School teacher removed following sexual misconduct allegations 

Townsend Harris High School in Flushing (Screenshot via Google Maps)

Joseph Canzoneri, a former English teacher at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing, was removed from the campus following allegations of sexual misconduct with students.

Canzoneri, who was removed from Townsend Harris High School in 2018 and reinstated this fall by the city Department of Education (DOE), has been reassigned outside of the school building, according to the DOE. 

The school newspaper, called The Classic, made inquiries on Canzoneri which led to his removal. Three senior students organized a sit-in protest on Nov. 23 in the school’s lobby to share their thoughts on the issue. The students called for “transparency regarding credible sexual misconduct accusations that are made against teachers within the school, the banning of the accused from entering the building and interacting with students, training for students, transparency for past failures, and the revision of DOE sexual misconduct policies,” according to The Classic. 

Families rally to save United Nations International School in Jamaica 

State Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi speaks at a rally with parents, students and teachers outside of The United Nations International School in Jamaica Estates on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. (Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS)

Queens lawmakers joined parents, teachers, alumni and students outside of the United Nations International School (UNIS) in Jamaica for a rally in December calling on the secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, to suspend the decision to close the school. 

The school, located at 173-53 Croydon Rd., is facing closure after the UNIS board of trustees notified the community last month of its decision to permanently close the campus in June 2022, citing enrollment losses and a $2 million deficit. Queens lawmakers expressed their concern with the impact of the school’s closing on students represented in their constituencies, as current plans would relocate children to the UNIS Manhattan campus. 

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