DOE Nixes Plan to Cut Gifted Program at Astoria's P.S. 122 After Backlash

By Jeanmarie Evelly on April 15, 2013 6:20pm 

DITMARS — After months of protests and criticism from the community, the Department of Education is dropping a controversial plan to reduce the size of the popular Gifted and Talented program at Astoria’s P.S. 122, according to parents and elected officials — at least for now.

"Basically, after meeting with us they decided that they would leave the school as is, because it works," said P.S. 122 Parent Association president Claudia Lieto-McKenna, one of several parents who met with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott last week to make their case against the proposal.

"We're happy that he really did come to listen to us," she said. "We're just very delighted."

The DOE announced in February that it planned to significantly reduce the number of classes at P.S. 122’s high-ranking gifted middle school The Academy in order to extend its general education classes, which currently end after fifth grade, until eighth grade.

Local parents were furious at the proposed change, which they said would not only dismantle the school's prestigious gifted program — a source of pride for District 30 — but that adding more general education classes would overcrowd the building.

"It’s a huge victory, not just for the kids, but for the community," City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. said of the DOE's decision Monday. "[P.S. 122] is one of the reasons people come here. It's one of the reasons Astoria is such a great place to live."

The DOE had proposed the changes to comply with a city regulation that requires all K-8 schools allow every student the opportunity to remain enrolled there through middle school.

But district 30 parents argued that P.S. 122 is not a traditional K-8, but an elementary school with a separate middle school program.

"We kept saying, 'If it's not broke, don’t fix it," said State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been working with P.S. 122 parents for the last several months. "It's one of the jewels of the public school system, not just for our part of Queens, but the whole city."

Vallone said the DOE indicated that it may "revisit" changes to P.S. 122 in the future, but that for now the school will continue to operate as it's been.

"We’ve listened, and we know what an exceptional job P.S. 122 is doing with its G&T middle school students," DOE spokesman Devon Puglia said in an e-mailed statement.

"We’re going to take more time to think through the challenge, consider ways to ensure equity and excellence for all families, and reengage with the community in the future.”

The proposal for P.S. 122 was announced this year amidst a flurry of other changes to Gifted and Talented programs in District 30, as the city grapples to deal with a boom in the number of local children who qualify and a shortage of gifted seats.

Other changes include a plan to open a new gifted program in the district at I.S. 126 in Long Island City, which will be modeled after The Academy at P.S. 122. That program will launch this fall and will have seats for 60 students, according to the DOE.

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