Thursday, September 18, 2008

Outrage grows over Bloomberg's anti-Riverdale gifted class policy

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review 09/18/2008

Both Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Debbie Bowden, chair of Community Board #8Õs education committee, are demanding answers from the Department of Education.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz fired off a letter to Marty Barr, the DOEÕs executive director of elementary school enrollment, asking him to clarify comments he made at a meeting of the Community Education Council of District #10 two weeks ago.
At that meeting Barr implied that the gifted and talented program at P.S. 24 could be moved in the future, and stated that Manhattan had more gifted programs than other boroughs because many of its parents could afford20to leave the public schools.
BowdenÕs letter calls on the DOE to recognize potential overcrowding at P.S. 24 and P.S. 81, as evidenced by reports of students who are zoned for those schools being denied admission. She also called on the DOE to return the Whitehall Annex to local use and to create more gifted and talented programs for students here.
ÒThis overcrowding is due to bad planning by the Department of Education, who failed to recognize the need to provide adequate seats in this growing neighborhood,Ó wrote Bowden. ÒOne only has to drive through our local streets to observe the massive construction in this community.Ó
In his letter, Dinowitz noted that it was his community that demanded the gifted program in District #10, and stated that it was not fair for the DOE to threaten to remove it from Riverdale.
ÒOur community for many years demanded a gifted program in our district,Ó wrote Dinowitz. ÒOur last elected school board made the establishment of such a program a top priority, as have I.Ê School boards may be a thing of the past, but the strong and overwhelming support in our community for gifted programs is not. Ê The DOE resisted for many years.Ê Finally, we were told last year that we would have a gifted programs starting with two first grade classes in our district of over 40,000 students.Ó
During that CEC meeting Barr noted that so few students had elected to attend the gifted program at P.S. 54 that the program was canceled this year. Dinowitz said such a move was inevitable.
ÒAs predicted, many parents who very much would like their child to be part of a gifted program decided that P.S. 24 was their only realistic option and that a bus ride of up to an hour to P.S. 54, a failing school, did not make sense,Ó wrote Dinowitz.
That said, the assemblyman demanded that the DOE show that they are serious about gifted programs by creating more in the district and in his community, across all grades and schools. He specifically took issue with BarrÕs statement declaring that ÒG&T is a district program.Ê It is not a Riverdale program.Ê It doesnÕt belong to any part of the district.Ó
ÒThat is an outrageous and disgraceful position,Ó wrote Dinowitz, who said that if Riverdale has20more gifted kids then it should have more gifted programs. ÒThere are gifted children throughout our district and every child and every corner of the district should be served.Ê But if itÕs the case that the children are concentrated in particular areas, for whatever reason, then programs ought to be housed in schools in those local areas.Ó
Dinowitz closed his letter by demanding that the DOE expand its gifted programs, stating that he is sure that more gifted students are in District #10 than the DOE wants to admit.
ÒDifferent children have different needs,Ó wrote Dinowitz. ÒWe cannot ignore any of them.Ê I am confident that there are many more gifted children throughout district 10 than the DOE is willing to acknowledge.Ê Wherever they are we must identify them and provide for gifted classes in their home school or at least in a nearby school.Ê Anything less would be scandalous.Ó
In BowdenÕs letter, she noted that the kindergarten applications at both P.S. 24 and P.S. 81 have increased significantly, leading to space crunch at those schools. She also noted that the number of gifted students in Riverdale is higher than other parts of the district, yet only one local gifted class has been created. With a need for more space for both local students and gifted programs, the Whitehall Annex could solve such problems easily.
ÒWe are requesting the return of our annex at the Whitehall and the construction of schools to provide more seats so we can continue to maintain our children with the excellent quality of education in our local elementary schools,Ó wrote Bowden.
As of press time, neither Bowden nor Dinowitz had received a response from the DOE.