2011-08-19 / Top Stories

Choice Plan Put Off

By Lori Hymson Special To The Wave

Parents wary, or downright resentful, of the city’s proposal to implement middle school choice in the district representing much of southern Queens drew sighs of relief last week after Community Education Council 27 members delayed their vote on whether or not to approve the plan.

City Department of Education officials gave a presentation on the middle school choice program to about 75 people who packed the CEC 27’s headquarters in Ozone Park last Thursday evening.

After numerous residents and parents, as well as legislative aides to state Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. and Assemblyman Mike Miller, expressed concerns about the program following the presentation, CEC members said they would delay the vote until their September meeting.

“I’m very confused and very upset about what I’m hearing here,” said Lew Simon, one of the Democratic district leaders from the Rockaways. “The system’s not broken, so why fix it?”

If the council approves the middle school choice plan, parents in the district would, likely beginning in the 2012-13 school year, be able to request that their child attend any middle school in the district.

Each parent would have to fill out a form ranking the schools he/she wanted the child to attend, and the city would match students with schools based on those rankings.

Students would, as they do now, receive priority for their zoned school, which means they most likely could attend their neighborhood institution if they wanted to, but that would not be guaranteed.

Students currently typically attend the middle school for which they are zoned. City officials argued the choice program would provide pupils and parents with more options and allow students who believe they are stuck in a bad school to attend another one.

As part of the new program, officials would send every parent an information packet about each middle school to which they could apply.

“Right now, some parents know their options and others don’t,” said Sara McPhee, of the DOE’s Office of Student Enrollment. “This levels the playing field.”

However, parents at the meeting said they would rather have the city funnel the money the DOE would spend on implementing the program into district schools.

“It sounds to me like we’re creating more paperwork, and the money to do that would be better spent on books and teachers for our schools,” said Ray McNamara, a member of CEC 27 whose statement was greeted with loud cheers and applause from many members of the audience.

District 27 is the largest one in the city geographically and the fourth largest in school enrollment.

It includes schools in Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Howard Beach, part of Jamaica, Broad Channel and the Rockaway peninsula. Because the schools are spaced far apart, many parents at Thursday’s event said middle school choice makes far less sense for them than the other districts that have implemented them, which includes District 28 in Queens and every one in Manhattan, where the schools are located much closer to each other.

Due to the distance between schools, parents said the middle school choice plan creates consternation because they worry about their pupils having to travel long distances to get to school.

“We want to make sure our children will get the priority for their zoned school,” said Theresa Fonal, president of the Parent Teacher Association at PS 146.

Drew Patterson, of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management, assur-ed parents all students would receive priority for their zoned school.

CEC 27 President Coralanne Griffith Hunte said she expects the vote to definitely happen in September.

“Middle school choice for our district cannot be the pressing issue for the duration of the year,” Griffith-Hunte said. “In September, a decision will be made because there are other things we need in this district.”

While city officials argue middle school choice has worked well in other districts, leaders in District 28, which includes Forest Hills and Jamaica, say otherwise.

“Middle school choice has not gone well,” said Sandra Williams, the new president of CEC 28. “What I saw was the DOE came in and bullied parents and schools into doing what they wanted them to do.”

CEC 28 implemented middle school choice last year.

Williams said the system has worked poorly for students who want to remain in the fifth grade at their elementary school.

Parents have said they have felt torn as to whether they should keep their children in the fifth grade at an elementary school they love or choose a middle school because the city mandates that students can only rank schools when entering fifth, not sixth grade. If students opt to remain at their elementary school for fifth grade, they typically cannot go to any other middle school other than the institution for which they are zoned in sixth grade.

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