WANT H.S. FOR ‘OUR KIDS’
DOE Pressed To Make New Maspeth Campus Locally Zoned
Despite the Department of Education’s (DOE) standing policy of prohibiting new high schools from being locally zoned, parents and residents at an Oct. 5 public hearing regarding the new high school being constructed in Maspeth urged agency officials to reserve the campus for students living nearby.
Last Tuesday’s hearing at P.S. 58, held by the DOE’s Division of Portfolio Planning, aimed to give parents and community residents the opportunity to comment on the type of high school that would be created on the campus designed to accommodate 1,100 students. The options on the table are a specialized high school geared toward students seeking a specific career or a generalized high school that would prepare pupils for a liberal arts education in college.
But the two representatives of the Division of Portfolio Planning—executive director Alex Shub and project manager Gabriella Fighetti—also got an earful from attendees who demanded that the new school be locally zoned to serve students living in Maspeth, Middle Village and other communities in close proximity to the facility being constructed at the corner of 57th Avenue and 74th Street.
“A student who lives down the block should have the right to go to their nearby school first instead of students from Sunnyside and Woodside,” said Connie Partinico, the copresident of P.S. 58’s parent-teacher association. “This is a community school, and we should have the opportunity first. Why should we have to send our kids out of the area when we have the school here?”
Upon receiving approval for the project from the City Council in April 2009, as previously reported in the Times Newsweekly, the DOE agreed to give students in the confines of School District 24 first priority for admission to the new high school, which is expected to be completed by September 2012. Students from all other areas of the city will be able to fill any remaining seats.
Though some pointed out that the Queens Metropolitan High School in Forest Hills—which opened in September following 15 years of negotiations between community activists and the city—is locally zoned, Shub and Fighetti pointed out that the DOE’s current policy prohibits such zoning for newly constructed schools throughout New York City.
Even so, the DOE officials—having no authority to make a decision for or against the attendees’ wishes— stated that they would forward the comments they received at last Tuesday’s hearing to department officials for review.
An early opening?
Fighetti began the session by providing a summary of responses received by the DOE from a community survey regarding what the new high school should be and the types of programs it should include once it opens its doors.
In all, approximately 401 responses were received, according to Fighetti. Based on the submissions they receive, she stated, the DOE concluded that many in the community want the high school to provide a variety of programs designed to provide a well-rounded education to all students.
“What we saw was pretty clear. You want a school that focuses on college prep, test preparation and AP classes,” she said. Parents also expressed in the survey that they wanted the new school to have an assortment of sports and academic programs that are standard with traditional New York City public high schools.
Asked by Fighetti for their comments, some in attendance at the session suggested that the new school place a special emphasis on science and “explorational learning” to help students gain a more well-rounded education as well as real world experience.
Currently, Shub noted, the DOE is in the process of reviewing several applicants seeking to become the new high school’s principal. Each candidate has been asked to come up with their own vision for what the school should be and the kinds of programs it would offer.
The timeline for when the school leadership is selected will have an impact on the school’s opening, Fighetti pointed out. If the DOE selects a principal by Dec. 17, it will ask the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) to approve a proposal at their February meeting to allow the Maspeth high school to open next September—a year before the scheduled completion of the campus— with the first class of students “incubated” at Queens Metropolitan High School.
If the school leadership plan is not in place by the December date, she noted, the Maspeth high school will open at the 74th Street site in 2012 as scheduled. Even so, Fighetti and Shub cautioned, the DOE would not rush to make a decision on school leadership in order to open the school early at Queens Metropolitan.
“The DOE is determined to find a bright leader and a program that will meet your needs,” Shub told attendees.
Want it for their community
Though the school leadership, curriculum and time frame for opening remain unresolved, a vast majority of speakers at last Tuesday’s hearing made it known to both DOE officials that they wanted the new Maspeth high school to serve local students when it opens its doors for the 2012-13 school year.
Adelina Tripoli, P.S. 58 principal, stated that parents from the school first suggested the 74th Street site to the DOE as the location for a new secondary school when it became available. The vision, at that time, was that the new school would educate students from P.S. 58 and nearby I.S. 73 as well as P.S. 153 in Maspeth and P.S. 229 in Woodside.
“It should still serve the children of the immediate community,” Tripoli said. “You need to take our message and bring it back to them. This is what the community wants.”
Another P.S. 58 parent, Angela O’Hehir, agreed, noting that the entire school community “fought tooth and nail to get this high school built.”
“Everyone else wants to be able to walk to this school,” she said.
Nick Comaianni, president of District 24’s Community Education Council, noted that giving first priority to the district opens the door for students to come in from several miles away from the site, potentially depriving youngsters living only blocks from the Maspeth school of a seat.
Pointing out that CEC 24 and Community Board 5 both passed resolutions indicating that they wouldn’t approve of the Maspeth high school unless it was locally zoned, Comaianni urged parents to continue to fight to convince the DOE to grant the community its wish.
Shub noted that students living near the Maspeth high school will be able to get first preference should they select it as their top choice on their public high school applications.
Asked by Glendale resident Kathy Masi about what the DOE would do in the event there are more applicants from District 24 seats than available seats, Fighetti responded that the DOE would select students via a random lottery. This statement drew groans from many in the audience.
“It’s possible that only 10 of 100 parents here will have their children go to this school,” Masi replied, calling the lottery plan “a little disingenuous.”
‘It’s going to be local’
Others in attendance suggested that the city had broken a promise to the community by zoning the school with priority for the district rather than the surrounding community. Tony Nunziato of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), who is also a candidate for Assembly, stated that he was “outraged” by the news, claiming that many thought the school would be built “for our town.”
“This school was built with no extra transportation” in mind, Nunziato said. “They told us that it’s going to be local. Our kids will be able to walk here. We could have our quality of life.”
City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley then took the microphone and urged the crowd “to work together to make sure that we get the most out of this school.” She urged attendees to put aside their anger about the situation and to work with the DOE to ensure that the new school’s program provides the best education to its students.
Reiterating that Queens Metropolitan has local zoning for District 24 students, Crowley added that “whether they’re brand new or extensions, our kids in District 24 are going to have an opportunity to go to two new high schools that they can walk to.”
Following her was JPCA President Robert Holden, who claimed that Crowley had previously stated that “our kids” (meaning children from Maspeth and Middle Village) would attend the new high school in Maspeth.
“Why can’t we have a locally zoned school here?” Holden asked. “We want our kids to be able to walk to this school. Can’t you guarantee that?”
The Maspeth high school project was approved by the City Council on Apr. 2, 2009.
As previously reported in this newspaper, Council Member Crowley— who had stated that she would not support the project unless the school was locally zoned—voted against the proposal. The plan agreed upon by the City Council included first priority preference for District 24 students.
Marge Kolb, president of District 24’s Parent-Teacher Association Presidents’ Council, reminded attendees that “the Maspeth high school was never promised to be locally zoned,” but that the DOE “Conceded to District 24 preference.” As for the locally-zoned Queens Metropolitan High School, she pointed out that community and school leaders fought for 15 years to gain local zoning for the site.
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