Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott met with students during a visit to the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School in Hollis on Dec. 11. Photo by Ira Cohen
BY JOE MARVILLI
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott swung by a Queens school to talk about the strides the public school system has taken in the last few years with him in charge.
Walcott visited classrooms and met with students at the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School in Hollis on Wednesday, Dec. 11, as part of his last planned trip to Queens as Chancellor. After his tour, he stopped to talk about the state of Queens schools and responded to criticisms that have plagued the Dept. of Education.
It was his second stop of the day in Queens, having gone to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts earlier that morning.
The trip took place in Walcott’s own backyard, as the Chancellor is a lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, having attended PS 36 in St. Albans, IS 192 in Jamaica and Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows.
Accompanied by Principal Judy Henry, the Chancellor stopped to chat with several students about their studies, what organizations they are involved in and for seniors, where they plan to attend college.
When members of the school’s Senior Council and Student Government asked Walcott what his future plans were, he said he was not sure. As he left, Walcott mentioned that he was proud of the students’ dedication and hard work.
“This is one of the many great schools not just in the borough of Queens, but throughout the City,” he said.
“Citywide, over the last 11 and a half years, I think we’ve constructed roughly 165,000 new classroom seats. Queens has had a significant bulk of those seats.”
Many of those seats have been added to help relieve overcrowding in Queens, but some districts still need help.
Walcott touched on areas like District 24 and District 30 that need more classrooms and said that the DOE is always looking for new sites to build schools. The DOE has proposed a $12 billion, five-year capital plan that should be adopted by the new City Council in June. The Chancellor said “a significant portion” of that amount will be dedicated to addressing overcrowding.
Another issue that has been widespread throughout Queens and the City is the public reaction to school closures and co-locations, with some parents and community leaders feeling that the schools being closed should have had more support from the DOE. Walcott argued that co-locations help to maximize the use of space and said failing schools are given a lot of attention before they are closed.
“We don’t take phase outs lightly, but I still think it’s a necessary step for schools that aren’t meeting the muster,” he said.
The Chancellor used Martin Van Buren High School as an example of a recent co-location that was done to relieve overcrowding in northeast Queens and give both schools a boost.
“[Van Buren] has a new principal and I think he’s wonderful but there was also space availability there. I think the sharing of space there will benefit both schools and hopefully relieve some of the overcrowding in the northern tier of Queens,” he said.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.