Photo by Allan Foster.
By Marie Holmes
The city’s plan to add another 1,000 seats to third grade Gifted and Talented (G&T) school programs, announced by Mayor Eric Adams last month, met stiff resistance from some Upper West Side parents and school officials at a recent meeting of the Community Education Council for District 3 (CEC3). The purpose of the meeting was to gather public feedback.
Under the city’s proposal, District 3 would get one new G&T program, starting in the 2022-23 school year, in Harlem. District 3 covers the West Side of Manhattan from 59th Street to 122nd Street.
But the clear message from parents, principals and teachers at the April 28 education council meeting was: don’t do it.
Speakers noted low enrollment numbers in a number of District 3 schools, saying another G&T program could siphon students away and lower the funding a school receives. New York City provides 51% of school funding; NY State provides 34%; and the Federal government and other sources provide 15%, according to the Department of Education (DOT).
Marcia Hendricks, principal of The STEM Institute of Manhattan, a pre-K-5th grade school at 240 W 113th Street, said enrollment at her school had declined to the point that a second-grade class currently has only four students.
Hendricks and others also argued that expanding gifted and talented programs – rather than doing away with them, as Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio, had sought to do — would increase inequality within the city’s school system.
“I appreciate the brilliance in all of my students,” Hendricks said.
District 3 is currently home to one citywide (refers to higher admission requirements) G&T program, the Anderson School, a K-8 school at 100 W 77th street: as well as four district-wide G&T programs: PS 165, a pre-K-5 school at 234 W 109th Street; PS 166, a K-5 school at 132 W 89th Street; PS 191, a K-5 school at 300 W 61st Street, whose G&T program begins in the 3rd grade; and PS 163, a pre-K-5 school at 163 W 97th Street.
The program at PS 163 is currently being phased out, in the face of criticism that it effectively segregated students by race. Jennifer Burns-Rotich, a kindergarten teacher at the school, told the council meeting that by eliminating the separate G&T class, students are able to “mix with each other [and] learn from each other.”
Steve Hernon, principal of PS 191 — the only district school right now with a G&T class starting in grade three — was blunt. “It does not work,” he said. “It does not help the school in an enrollment manner.” Other challenges, Hernon added, were “segregated classes,” and “constraints on what we can do for students and teachers.”
A Community Education Council is an advisory body of parents, “responsible for…reviewing and evaluating their district’s educational programs; approving zoning lines; and holding public hearings on certain matters,” according to DOT. It consists of 11 members: nine parents of students in the district, who are elected by the full parent body; two community residents and/or local business leaders appointed by the Borough President; and a non-voting high school senior who lives in the district and is appointed by the Community Superintendent.
Kent Hansan, a high school math teacher, parent of a student in a Harlem school, and a member of the education council, suggested a possible compromise: using a “pull-out” system that would keep gifted and talented students in regular classes with other students but give them additional, outside instruction. It’s a model commonly used for special education or teaching English as a second language.
Though Hansan’s proposal drew approving comments from others at the council meeting, Superintendent Christine Loughlin noted that funding for a “pull-out” class – rather than a formal gifted and talented program – likely would not be available.
Applications to G&T programs are open from May 31-June 13. Families can find more information on the DOE website.