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Parents Furious That City Has No Fix for Forest Hills Kindergarten Crisis

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | May 8, 2015 5:36pm | Updated on May 11, 2015 8:55am
 Pam Chowayou, one of the Forest Hills parents whose children were waitlisted, discusses her concerns at a recent CEC meeting.
Pam Chowayou, one of the Forest Hills parents whose children were waitlisted, discusses her concerns at a recent CEC meeting.
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DNAinfo.com/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Families were furious after city acknowledged that it has no short-term solution to the kindergarten crisis in Forest Hills, where dozens of families were told that there is not enough space for their children at their zoned schools.

In April, dozens of families received letters from the Department of Education that their kids zoned for P.S. 196 and P.S. 144 were waitlisted and could be sent to other District 28 schools, sometimes outside of Forest Hills, including P.S. 117 in Briarwood, P.S. 99 in Kew Gardens and P.S. 206 in Rego Park, parents said.

During a School District 28 Community Education Council meeting Thursday night, packed with frustrated parents, city officials said that while they are still discussing the situation with school principals and district superintendent, they had no immediate solution to the problem.

Senior Director of Kindergarten Admissions, Gentian Falstrom, said that students could still get into the schools they're waitlisted in, as parents may choose other options, such as enrolling in gifted and talented programs or sending children to private schools.

"The waitilists are moving now and they will continue to move through the [next] three months,” Falstrom said.

The Department of Education said in April that P.S. 196 has 150 kindergarten seats and waitlisted 52 kids. P.S. 144 offers 100 seats and has 64 students waiting. Parents said the waitlist for P.S. 144 later grew to 70 students.

“Schools will be calling parents of the waitlists as seats become available,” Falstrom said.

Parents asked the DOE to look into a variety of solutions, including adding more classes and installing trailers at the schools.

Kate Zolotkovsky said her daughter, who is zoned for P.S. 196, was offered a seat at P.S. 117 in Briarwood, two miles away from where the family lives.

“You can pack trailers down the block if you can put her in a school within Forest Hills,” said Zolotkovsky, adding that her family bought an apartment in Forest Hills, two blocks away from P.S. 196, in ordered for her kids to be able to attend the school.

But Chris Mangiero, director of space planning, said the city is currently working on eliminating trailers, which were meant as a temporaty solution. He noted that installing a new trailer also takes several years.

City officials said they are hoping to build new schools in the area to provide a long-term solution. 

Last month, the DOE said it was planning to add 1,096 new school seats in the area, which would serve both elementary and middle school students.

On Thursday night, Danielle Schaaff of the School Construction Authority announced that a 396-seat elementary addition will be built at P.S. 303 in Forest Hills.

She said she hoped the school would open in 2018-2019.

Schaaff also said the SCA is looking for additional locations for the remaining 700 seats in District 28, which includes Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Jamaica.

She also asked the parents to help the agency locate possible vacant spots where schools could be built.

“You guys are on the ground,” she said. “You know first before we do when a supermarket is going for sale, or a Rite Aid is going for sale, or a movie theater.”

She said such locations could potentially be used for a school, which usually requires about 20,000 sq. feet of space.

Several parents suggested the agency should look at the former Parkway Hospital, which has sat empty since it closed in 2008 and is located directly near P.S. 196.