BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
The STEM Academy program, one of five citywide Gifted and Talented programs, located at PS 85 Judge Charles J. Vallone School in Community School District 30 will face major changes in the coming years.
STEM, a national non-profit organization, currently serves kindergarten through fifth grade at PS 85, located in Astoria, but there is not enough space to allow the program to expand through eighth grade.
“When I started on this journey of helping STEM grow from a K-5 program with one section per grade to a K-8 school with two sections per grade (450 students), it became very clear that space was going to be the most difficult issue,” said District 30 Vice President of Community Education Council Michelle Noris.
“While District 30 is an ideal location for a citywide school, due to its proximity to transportation and its long history of supporting Gifted and Talented education, it also has overcrowded schools in many of our neighborhoods,” she said. “It became clear that no one building had enough extra space to house the whole school.”
“The next step was to look for two buildings nearby each other that could house the single school, with a single administration,” Noris said.
The Dept. of Education recently proposed to site-split the growing program within two school buildings, PS 17 Henry David Thoreau and IS 126 Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts.
Currently, PS 17 is a zoned elementary school serving students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and IS 126 is also a zoned middle school serving students in sixth through eighth grade.
“Since STEM currently has no middle school, is it clear that sharing resources with PS 17 and PS 126 will benefit the students at STEM,” said Noris.
The two schools chosen are considered underutilized and have space to accommodate additional students. According to reports submitted by the DOE, PS 17 utilizes 70 percent of its building and IS 126 utilizes 49 percent.
The first proposal included PS 76 A. Philip Randolph School as one of the sites to co-locate with, but parents immediately opposed the idea, considering PS 76 uses a lot of its additional space for special education classes.
If the proposal is approved, PS 17 will see an influx of kindergarten, first and sixth grade students in the beginning of the school year 2014-2015. In the beginning of the school year 2015-2016, grade six students will be re-sited and co-located with IS 126, along with grade seven students.
The plan sited by the Dept of Education states, by 2018-2019, when the STEM Academy program is at full scale, students in kindergarten through fourth grade will be co-located in PS 17 and students in grades five through eight will be co-located in IS 126.
“Co-locating with PS 17 and IS 126 seem to be the best we could possibly do, considering the previous proposals we saw,” said Jeffrey Guyton, co-president of CEC 30.
The Parent Association President Brenda Carrasco of PS 17 welcomes the program, but feels the DOE did not involve the parents or the school in any meetings prior the proposal.
“We feel left out of the decision making process because we space, but not that much space,” she said.
The proposal is made public for comments and will be approved by the Panel for Education Policy.
Reach Reporter Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.