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P.S. 85 Parents Push for Action on STEM G&T Program Expansion

ASTORIA — Parents from the citywide gifted program at Astoria's P.S. 85 are anxious about the future.

Though the Department of Education said the school's prestigious STEM Academy will be expanded from a K-5 to a K-8, parents of students in the program's oldest class — now in fourth grade — say a lack of details about that plan has them in limbo, unsure of whether their children will be continuing at STEM after fifth grade or if they'll have to start applying to other middle schools.

"As a parent of a fourth grader, I just want to stress the urgency of the situation," said mom Maria Duda, one of several STEM parents who showed up at District 30's Community Education Council meeting last week to press for answers.

"We haven't gotten any details," she said. "Decision-making time is now."

Founded in 2009, STEM is the only citywide gifted and talented program in Queens. Citywide G&T's are more selective than district gifted programs: Students must score above the 97th percentile on the admissions test to be eligible, while district programs require scores at or above the 90th percentile.

But STEM parents argue they've been shortchanged compared to the four other citywide G&Ts in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Those programs all go through middle school and have their own administrations, two things STEM parents have been advocating for.

At a town hall meeting in January, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told parents that the DOE is committed to expanding STEM to the eighth grade.

"Our office of portfolio development is looking into the different options around space availability," Walcott said at the time. "We're looking to expand it to a K through 8, and we’ll put forward a proposal by June of 2013."

Parents at least week's CEC meeting said they want to be included in that planning process.

"We need answers and we need them before June. We need a meeting, and we need it before June," Parent Association co-president Randi Marshall told the CEC members. "Time is short. Our fourth grade parents have decisions to make."

Marshall told the CEC members that parents have been promised from the program's inception that STEM would eventually be expanded to eighth grade, adding that being only a K-5 diminishes the program's appeal.

"I'm about to plan tours and open houses to convince incoming kindergartners that they should come to STEM, and I don’t know what to tell them anymore," she said to the council.

CEC co-president Jeffrey Guyton told parents he believes the DOE is "quite committed" to making the STEM expansion a reality, and that he and other members are looking to meet with DOE officials after the spring recess.

"We were assured last week we would have a meeting soon," Guyton said. "I'm optimistic."

It's unclear where the STEM middle school would be housed. CEC members said P.S. 85 itself does not have the space to accommodate the additional sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes.

Carmignani told DNAinfo.com in January that one option is I.S. 126 in Long Island City, where the DOE is starting a new district G&T program this fall. Carmignani said I.S. 126 is currently under capacity and has the space for both programs.