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DOE to Cut Gifted Classes at Astoria's Prestigious P.S. 122

ASTORIA — When Karen Schumacher was trying to decide on an elementary school for her daughter Magie, who tested into the city's gifted and talented program, Sunnyside's P.S. 150 stood out from the other G&T choices in her section of Queens. 

Enrollment at P.S. 150 meant that her daughter would eventually attend the prestigious gifted middle school program at Astoria's P.S. 122. known as The Academy, where gifted P.S. 150 classes historically matriculated.

"P.S. 122 is a model program — it's one of the top-ranked in the state," Schumacher said.

And while Magie, a first grader, is still set to attend The Academy when she gets to middle school, Schumacher worries it will no longer be the rigorous and effective program that drew her to choose it originally.

That's because the Department of Education is planning to cut the number of Academy classes in the coming years in order to expand P.S. 122's general education classes to eighth grade, officials said this week, a move that has outraged some parents and spurred them to start an online petition in protest.

"By the time she gets to The Academy, it will not be the same successful program that it is today — it will be on its last legs," Schumacher said. "We don’t understand why the DOE is trying to dismantle this hugely successful program."

According to the DOE, all future classes at P.S. 122 will extend through eighth grade starting with this fall's incoming kindergartners. By 2019, that will leave room for just one class per grade in the Academy, down from the three or four classes per grade that the program offers now.

In January, the DOE announced that it will launch a new gifted middle school this fall with seats for 60 students at I.S. 126 in Long Island City, modeled after The Academy, in order to address a shortage of gifted middle school seats in Queens District 30.

But now parents and leaders say that addition will eventually be undermined by the planned cuts to P.S. 122.

"In gutting the 122 program, they basically didn’t give us any seats," said Isaac Carmignani, co-president of the District 30's Community Education Council. "We're playing musical chairs with the seats. It's still going to be an issue."

All current G&T students in District 30 have been guaranteed seats in a gifted middle school, the DOE has said. Current P.S. 150 and P.S. 122 students will go to the Academy, while students at the district's other gifted program at P.S. 166 will go to the new middle school at I.S. 126.

Future P.S. 122 G&T students — starting with the incoming kindergarten class of 2013 — will still be automatically enrolled in The Academy's one class per grade when they reach middle school.

But future G&T students at P.S. 150 and P.S. 166 will have to apply and compete for seats at I.S. 126, which some parents have derided as unfair.

"There is a serious problem with recognizing equity," said Mandana Limbert, whose son Otto is in the first grade gifted class at P.S. 150. She had hoped that her four-year-old daughter, if she tests into the gifted program, would be able to follow the same path as her older child — to P.S. 150, then to the Academy.

"Basically, we are guaranteed that she will go to a different school than her brother," Limbert said, adding that  he understands the desire to create a K-8 general education program in the district.

"Why do it at the expense of this spectacular program?" she said.

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman for the DOE stressed that all current gifted students in the district have been slotted middle school seats, and that future plans are evolving.

"We’re continuing to listen to the community and work constructively with the CEC to meet the needs of students — both now and for the long-term," spokesman Devon Puglia said.

According to numbers published in the DOE's directory of middle schools in Queens District 30, 627 students applied for 78 seats at P.S. 122 in 2011.

"This new proposal seems to completely ignore the need for more resources for these students," P.S. 122 mom Naima Baker Garvin wrote in an e-mail.

District 30's CEC will meet this Thursday at P.S. 234 in Long Island City, and Schumacher said many G&T parents plan to be there to make their opinions known.

"What the DOE needs to do is create enough G&T seats for all the children who need them, not create this false competition for seats," she said.