The current policy allows students in the district’s four elementary school G&T program to automatically enroll into a middle school G&T program at PS 122 or IS 126.
That rule is set to phase out by 2020, meaning the current group of first graders would have to reapply to get a seat in the middle school programs.
As the Department of Education (DOE) considers the change, Community Education Council (CEC) 30 hosted a community meeting to hear from parents about the policy shift. Prior to the meeting, parents gathered outside to protest the DOE’s decision.
“What we’re here for tonight as parents is to unify as a district and to ask that we have those seats,” said Melissa Lee, a parent at both PS 122 and PS 166. “That our kids are allowed to continue the education with their peers and friends.”
The parents sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina describing their concerns, including the DOE’s “contradictory and unclear” communication about the enrollment policy moving forward.
If any change to the matriculation process is made, the letter says, it should be made starting with incoming kindergarten students, not students who are already in the G&T program.
In the letter, parents also asked for more middle school G&T seats to allow “qualified general education students” to enter the G&T program at different points in their education. According to Lee, there are already 68 seats for those students to enter at the 6th grade level.
Lee said the middle school G&T programs in the district have expanded in the past. Now, there are four classes at The Academy at 122 and two classes at IS 126.
“We don’t want less from DOE, we actually want more,” she said. “If we’re trying to further our kids’ education, we should be providing them with more.”
Nancy Torres, whose daughter attends PS 166, said the current policy creates consistency and continuity for G&T students. She said elementary school students who went through a tougher academic curriculum “deserve to stay within this program.”
“They work so hard, the G&T program is amazingly hard,” Torres said. “My kids are up until 10 p.m. sometimes doing their homework.”
Torres said the current system doesn’t disadvantage general education students because there are already extra seats to accommodate them in the middle school programs.
“The kids that already in the G&T program, just leave them. Why take them out? Why pull the rug underneath them?” Torres said. “If the system works, why are you going to fool with it?”
PS 85 parent Heather Dutiel said simply putting the elementary G&T students into a lottery “isn’t right.”
“If the children are doing well in an elementary G&T program, they’re going to continue to do well in an equally challenging middle school environment,” she said. “They need to continue to be challenged. Middle school is such a tough time in anyone’s life, so to be in an environment where you belong is really important.”
Councilman Costa Constantinides said it would be “unfair” to change the policy that has been in place for years.
“Students who are thriving should not be potentially uprooted from programs. Consistency and continuity are best for long term education and personal growth,” Constantinides said in a statement. “These programs have thrived for years and provided a model for the rest of the city, we should support them further and not change what has worked.”
At the CEC 30 meeting, dozens of parents testified on how a policy change would affect their kids’ and families’ lives. Many shared stories about how they moved into the area specifically for District 30’s education programs.
Others said they made a decision for their children based on the belief that the G&T program would be kindergarten through 8th grade.
Anthony Liberatoscioli, whose daughter attends PS 166, asked the panel why they would change the policy if there are enough seats in the program.
“We ask that you go to the DOE and please tell them to follow through and give everyone in this room a fair shake,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, Superintendent Philip Composto reassured parents that they understood parents’ concerns.
“Certainly, we hear your heartfelt compassion and concerns,” Composto said, “and promise you we will it take back to the chancellor and our leadership team for consideration.”
A DOE spokesman said the agency would continue to explore potential changes to middle school G&T admissions and keep up discussions with the District 30 community.
A decision will be made in time for the beginning of the 2018 kindergarten application cycle, the spokesman said.