Feb. 28, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
A public forum planned for this weekend and organized by an education advocacy group will take a look at the present and future of education in every-growing Long Island City.
The “Education Landscape” meeting, planned by the Gantry Parent Association (GPA), will take place at the Hunter’s Point Middle School on March 2, where the community at large is invited to be part of the conversation on pressing themes as they relate to education in the area.
Among the topics to be discussed include school seats, special education, zoning, and anticipating student needs at all grade levels.
Education in Long Island City, especially as it stands in comparison to the rapidly growing neighborhood, has long been a subject of concern and sustained advocacy since the area’s development boom started more than a decade ago, and despite upcoming school projects.
Schools, according to Community Board 2’s needs statement for fiscal year 2020, are among the top three issues in the district, with the board identifying a need for new and expanded schools to both alleviate overcrowding and bolster existing infrastructure.
The Gantry Parent Association itself was borne out of a desire to broaden educational opportunities in the neighborhood and “ensure the number of school seats and the quality of education keeps pace with the development,” according to the group’s website.
Infrastructure troubles came to a head recently when the Department of Education, citing chronic overcrowding at P.S. 78, considered busing incoming kindergarteners for the 2018 school year to a location in Woodside.
The Woodside location, in turn, would have acted as an “incubator” site, housing students until a new four-story elementary school currently under construction in Hunters Point is completed in 2021. The expanded student body would have then entirely moved to the new school grounds.
While the Woodside plan was ultimately scrapped after much backlash, the incubator concept remained in place, with some students that would have otherwise headed to P.S. 78 now attending the incubator location within a Court Square building until 2021.
“Amazon was certainly an impetus for reexamining the educational infrastructure,” said Meghan Cirrito, GPA board chair. “With the profound changes that were promised as a result of Amazon moving into the neighborhood, it seemed important to talk about how that was going to impact plans.”
While Amazon’s project largely focused on its headquarters, the deal in place called for a middle school to be built as part of the project, similar to prior plans for the site, among other provisions.
Although GPA and other civic groups have been pushing for investment in infrastructure projects long before the e-commerce giant briefly came into the picture, like getting the city to commit to a new school in Court Square, Cirrito said the company’s presence also gave their plight a boost.
“We had the attention of officials in the city and the state, so we were hoping to use that sense of urgency to underscore the long and short term needs that we’re facing here,” she said.
The meeting was planned when the Amazon project was still in the works, and the group has had to make adjustments since.
The group had planned on hearing from a lineup of officials on plans for education in Long Island City, but will instead lead a discussion with attendees on common short and long term goals.
The GPA had also anticipated that State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who were vocal in their opposition to the HQ2 deal, would attend the meeting after an invitation was extended to them prior to Amazon’s decision to back out of its Long Island City plans. Both ultimately declined the invite earlier this week.
A spokesperson for Gianaris said a scheduling conflict stood in the way, and that he extended an invite to the GPA to meet in the future. A spokesperson for Van Bramer’s office also said there were scheduling conflicts, and that the council member would be open to rescheduling. Cirrito was also told that a representative from Van Bramer’s office would attend the meeting.
The School Construction Authority also declined the group’s invite. A representative from the Department of Education, however, will be in attendance.
Assemblymember Catherine Nolan will also be at the meeting, along with a representative for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
“One of the reasons GPA wanted to move forward and have this meeting is because we want to signal to the community, to elected officials, that we still want to engage in productive discussions on education,” Cirrito said.
The board chair stresses that Saturday’s meeting “needed to happen” regardless of Amazon, but that the company’s departure has left the community with several unknowns.
“I think the community is looking for leadership,” Cirrito said. “Things are a little uncertain right now as a result of Amazon.”
She said the neighborhood is looking to hear from city agencies that much-needed education projects are moving forward, like a new elementary school in Court Square and a middle school in Hunters Point, and that progress has reached beyond brainstorming and information-gathering stages.
“The needs continue and they keep adding on, and I’d like for the leadership and decision makers to start executing on many of the things that they’ve been talking about,” she said. “We can talk about ideas and really have a productive and exciting conversation, but we do need leadership to turn those ideas and visions into reality.”
The meeting will take place at the Hunter’s Point Community Middle School, located at 1-50 51st Ave., from 10 a.m. to midday on March 2. For more information on the GPA, visit their website at www.gantryparentlic.org.