Wall Street Journal: Gifted Classes Are Hot Point
By Joy Resmovits
June 10, 2010
A Roosevelt Island public school won't offer its gifted-and-talented program for incoming kindergartners, prompting parental gripes and threats to move to the suburbs.
Families point to the Department of Education's discontinuation of the class at P.S./I.S. 217 as ironic amid overcrowding and a scramble for kindergarten seats.
"I'm devastated," said Cari Bak, a mother of three who moved to Roosevelt Island recently.
One of her daughters, 6-year-old Lillian, can distinguish rivers from tidal estuaries. According to Ms. Bak, Lillian benefits from the 14-student gifted-and-talented classroom.
But now, Ms. Bak is nervous. If her 3-year-old daughter, Bronwyn, qualifies for the accelerated program but can't attend school on Roosevelt Island, Ms. Bak said she would move to the suburbs.
School officials said its decision was driven by a lack of demand. "Two students this year listed P.S. 217 as their first choice—far below the 25 needed to fill a classroom," said education department spokesman Matt Mittenthal. "These students will be assigned to seats nearby."
But the school PTA President Nikki Leopold said she knew of at least five families that ranked the school first. Children must score above a 90% on an admissions exam to qualify; families often rank several schools in order of preference and children are placed according to how high they scored on the exam.
Should sufficient demand arise, the gifted-and-talented class could resume, Mr. Mittenthal said. "It does not mean the program is closed," he said.
A reflection of the city's effort to prevent young families from fleeing for the suburbs, P.S. 217's program started last year to attract Manhattan students to Roosevelt Island—and to keep its own best and brightest there.
As part of District 2, the school is lumped together with Upper East Side schools, such as the popular P.S. 77 Lower Lab School. As a result, Roosevelt Island ends up exporting more students than it imports.
A similar situation is unfolding in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where P.S. 376's kindergarten gifted-and-talented class also didn't attract enough students to open for next year.
Parents say the problem doesn't reflect a lack of interest but inefficiencies in allotting gifted seats across the city.
For example, 288 students in District 2 qualified for the gifted program, but there are only 88 seats, said City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who lobbied for the program last year to get more slots. On Friday, she will meet with P.S./I.S. 217 parents, when she hopes to join them in convincing other District 2 families to choose the program.
"Parents tour and like our school but some can't navigate the transportation situation," Ms. Leopold said. Roosevelt Island is accessible from Manhattan by tram, under reconstruction right now, and the F train. A bridge connects the island to Queens.
In October, Ms. Lappin requested that the education department lower its busing policy requiring 11 students per route to six students for the next three years. The department declined in a December letter, saying public transportation was sufficient.
"If children can't get there, it's not going to work," Ms. Lappin said.
An effort to attract students from Jackson Heights, Queens, also didn't help P.S./I.S. 217.
"When we added those students to the ones from Roosevelt Island, there was still not enough demand for a kindergarten class," Mr. Mittenthal said.