Op-Ed: Ending The Shuffle, Keeping Continuity

BY NILY ROZIC, EDWARD BRAUNSTEIN and GRACE MENG

Families in School District 26, which covers Bayside, Oakland Gardens, Douglaston, Glen Oaks and Little Neck, are fortunate to have some of the best programming where their children go to school. For many years, parents have had the opportunity to send their children to the best schools, with the promise of Gifted and Talented seats through 8th grade. This approach has always been about promoting students in our schools.

For the last few years, parents of young children in the district go through the process of applying for G&T admission in kindergarten, selecting a school and enrolling their child, and then reassuring their articulation into middle school. One sudden change in policy, however, was poised to endanger their progress. The DOE announced that, beginning this September, students would have to reapply in middle school and would be placed in G&T programs based on their 4th grade ELA and Math test scores, effectively eliminating the articulation pattern. While we agree that the creation of additional middle school seats and an expansion of programs will ultimately help more of our students, the lack of proper notice surrounding the change imposed unnecessary inconveniences and uncertainty on enrolled students and busy parents. The change would also disrupt the education of children in the most important school years, and present challenges to parents who are just trying to get students off to a strong start.

After hearing about the change that would require families to submit an application for the middle school G&T programs so that students could be matched to one of the programs based on their scores, parents raised concerns about the double application process—implemented without much notification or input from any of us. That’s why this fall and winter, we, together with parents, other elected officials—including Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Members Mark Weprin and Paul Vallone—and the Dept. of Education, began working toward a solution that allows currently matriculated G&T students admitted in kindergarten to remain in their middle schools.

We are very pleased that at last week’s special Community Education Council meeting, DOE presented a cooperative response. The department has come up with a plan to grandfather in students that will guarantee that currently enrolled District 26 G&T students who wish to remain in their school and then articulate into middle school for G&T can do so. The tone of the CEC meeting at which DOE presented the proposed new policy was thoroughly and refreshingly collaborative. A team from the Office of Student Enrollment presented the policy to attendees and opened the floor to the comments, questions and concerns of parents, emphasizing DOE’s openness to suggestions and willingness to work with the district to be certain that the change is both fair and comprehensive. Chancellor Farina and her staff also deserve great credit for their responsiveness and willingness to take action on behalf of our students.

In order to maintain the excellence we strive for in District 26 schools, it is vital that all parents fully understand the implications of the new policy. With this in mind, both DOE and our own offices are committed to doing outreach in every neighborhood in District 26. In addition to sending out letters, we will be calling parents and posting information online. The DOE will answer parents’ questions directly and will make all written materials about the policy available in multiple languages spoken in District 26.

We are thrilled about this victory and thankful that this collaboration between parents, the CEC, elected officials and DOE was a success. The change reflects true choice for children and parents in District 26 and will allow families to focus on getting their children off to a strong start in school. We hope this process can be a model for how stakeholders can work for Gifted and Talented seats in other parts of Queens, as well as collaborative on the many challenges facing our schools.

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic represents the 25th District; Assemblyman Edward Braunstein represents the 26th District; U.S. Rep. Grace Meng represents New York’s 6th District.