Jan. 31, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Parents and residents of the neighborhood poured into last night’s community meeting planned by the DOE at PS/IS 78 to harshly criticize the agency for its “unacceptable” plan that would send kindergarteners to a building in Woodside as a way to address school overcrowding.
Under the DOE’s proposal, officially announced last night, a school building located at 50-15 44th St. would begin to take in some PS78-bound kindergarteners in September 2018 to form part of a new school, PS384. The Woodside building, however, would only act as the temporary site for PS384 until 2021, when the actual PS384 school building slated for 57th Ave. is completely built.
Incoming kindergarteners will be selected to attend the Woodside location based on admissions priorities outlined by the city, which includes factors like zoning and whether a student already has a sibling at PS/IS78. All students heading to the proposed site would be bused there.
The proposal is one of three, and includes undergoing the same process with a building in Astoria, or truncating PS/IS78 so it only goes until the 5th grade instead of 8th grade. The DOE is advocating for the Woodside plan as opposed to the other two.
But the crowd at last night’s two-hour meeting shut down the DOE’s foremost plan, and confronted the agency on its lack of transparency in communicating its intentions sooner with the community.
“As a community we demand transparency and timely communication and inclusion for any DOE proceedings and decision-making that impacts our community,” said the Gantry Parent Association and the school’s PTA in a joint statement at the meeting.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Long Island City), who attended the meeting, said he, too, was blindsided by the DOE’s proposal. “You all deserve better,” Van Bramer said to parents. “I think that’s the tone we should set.”
Meeting attendees, some carrying large signs in protest of the DOE, were left even more appalled and angered as Dr. Philip Composto, community superintendent of District 30, began the presentation not by introducing the city’s proposal, but by answering questions some had posted on social media about it first, based on information by the Gantry Parent Association and the LIC Post.
Van Bramer called the meeting’s organization a “disaster”.
“I apologize if you thought it was rushed,” Composto said, adding that up until two weeks ago, the site in Astoria was the only place available to potentially move students into. He added that PS/IS 78 simply cannot accommodate any more students, and that something had to be done before the upcoming school year.
“This is our first meeting. We are not doing this until September. If we can come together and find a better solution, I’m on board,” he said.
While the meeting was meant to inform the community on the proposal and to receive feedback, many understood the plan to already be in motion, and took the opportunity to tell the DOE that Woodside would never be considered a viable option. Reasons for rejecting the Woodside location include its distance from Hunters Point, especially if an emergency occurs, concerns with sending five-year-olds on buses, and the overall point of not being able to walk to school, as the former DOE chancellor Carmen Fariña promised would be a priority.
Parents and residents also demanded to know why its taken years for the city to come up with an unfavorable plan when overcrowding in the neighborhood was long foreseen.
“Some of the questions we want to know is why, three years ago—when we broke ground on all of these high rises—you and elected officials didn’t put your heads together and put this on the board for 2018?” asked a parent of a four-year-old currently at the Pre-K TCU site. The question, like many that night, was met with applause by attendees.
Some attendees also proposed looking at empty lots around Hunters Point where a school could be built, or using unoccupied floors from nearby community centers to house the students, as an alternative to sending five-year-olds to a building two miles away.
Composto and other members of the DOE explained that school siting is decided by the School Construction Authority, and that the agency has a particular set of guidelines for selecting suitable places to bring schools.
Another popular plan called for additional trailers to be brought near the school, as is the case with the current Pre-K center at 49th Avenue, made up of temporary classroom units.
But that too was also the subject of controversy, as it was revealed that the city intends on doing away with the temporary classroom units for the 2018-2019 school year, and send the Pre-K students there to the Jackson Avenue Pre-K center in Court Square. Last night’s meeting, however, was mainly intended to discuss the Woodside location and kindergarteners heading there.
Van Bramer announced at the meeting that he would meet with the mayor’s office today to make it “loud and clear” that the DOE’s favored plan will not work with the community.
“I informed them that the plan the DOE came up with was outrageous and insulting,” he told the LIC Post. “They have to go back to the drawing board and come up with real solutions that would keep these very young children going to school in their own neighborhood.”
Van Bramer added that members of the mayor’s office will go over potential solutions once more, and will communicate their findings to him and the community soon.
In the meantime, the Gantry Parent Association, in unison with several Long Island City civic groups, is hosting a follow up meeting on Sunday, Feb. 4, to continue discussing solutions. The meeting will be held at the Irish Center, located at 1040 Jackson Ave., at 10 a.m.