I.S. 61 Gifted and Talented Program Moving Because of Overcrowding

By Paul DeBenedetto on September 13, 2012 1:56pm 

QUEENS — The Department of Education is planning to move the gifted and talented program out of a Corona school in order to help alleviate overcrowding — angering parents and teachers in the district.

At a presentation Wednesday night in the I.S. 61 auditorium, one of the most overcrowded schools in the city, the DOE detailed its plan for building a new school in 2015 to alleviate some of that crowding, even though that school will be overcrowded as well when it opens.

Principal Joseph J. Lisa said the plan could also eliminate the Gifted and Talented program at the school, which earned a B on its report card last year and an A the year before.

"You have a program here in the highest-needs part of the district," Lisa said. "We're trying to get kids college ready, and here's a program that advances that message."

The department's plan calls for creating a new school in phases. In the first phase, students living in a small section of the school zone will attend classes in an annex designed to house between 110 and 135 sixth graders through 2014.

In the second phase, that area will be increased, and a new school will be built, housing between 800 and 825 sixth through eighth graders in 2015.

DOE sources said that the Gifted and Talented program, which takes in students from outside the zone and serves about 90 kids, would also be moved to free up space, with the possibility of returning once the new school is built.

According to the sources, the program will be moved to another school in the district, but it is not clear which one.

Even with the new space, the schools will both still operate at more than 100 percent capacity, according to the DOE. 

Politicians on hand at the event stressed the importance of keeping the gifted and talented program.

"We have to make sure that communities like ours are going to be protected," Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya said at the meeting. "That communities like ours are getting the resources that they deserve."

District 24, where I.S. 61 resides, is one of the two most overpopulated school districts in the city, according to a 2011 analysis by the Independent Budget Office. The school itself is at 120 percent capacity with nearly 2,400 students in three grade levels.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who urged the DOE to look at all options, highlighted those statistics.

"Unfortunately, many of our children grow up in an overcrowded elementary school, and then go to an overcrowded junior high school, to then go to an overcrowded high school," Ferreras said.

Throughout the almost two-hour-long meeting, parents and teachers expressed their displeasure with the crowded schools, as well as their support for the Gifted and Talented program.

Rosalie Parker, an I.S. 61 Gifted and Talented teacher, says she's seen the program's success firsthand.

"Students apply to come here because they want to be in this school," Parker said. "They should not be punished just because we are crowded."

One such student was Jimmy Padilla, 14, who graduated from the program and now attends Long Island City High School, where takes advanced placement classes for college credit.

Toward the end of the public speaking portion of the night, Padilla urged the DOE to keep the program in place.

"What it does is simply prepare your children to be better students for the future," Padilla said. "That is why today I am such a successful student, as are many of my other colleagues and ex-classmates."

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