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Boro education workers lament overcrowded schools

The Clinton Democratic Club welcomed education experts to its monthly meeting last week for a discussion about the myriad concerns many northeast Queens residents have about area schools.

The forum — which began as it does every month with songs by the children they hope to help by bringing more resources to area schools — was a short but informative introduction to the issues facing the city’s public education system.

The club’s president, Paul Vallone, started off the meeting by focusing on overcrowding, one of the most pressing issues facing local schools.

“We have some of the most overcrowded schools in the city, from Bayside to Van Buren to Francis Lewis, and we have some of the best schools, so kids from all over the city — many not even from our district — want to come here for our schools, so it’s a constant struggle,” she said.

Jeanette Cunalata, the PTA president at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, said earlier this month that the 4,300 students enrolled at that school this year are 2,500 more than the building can hold, and Bayside HS is over capacity with about 3,500 students, according to City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone).

Rona Freiser, the Queens borough representative for the United Federation of Teachers, spoke at the meeting and said class sizes and overcrowding are two of the most critical problems the city must solve in order to better serve students.

“Everyone wants to go to Bayside and Francis Lewis. They’re great schools,” she said. “Put money into all the other schools so kids want to go there, too.”

A former teacher who spent many years in public schools, she also derided the tendency to focus teaching efforts on ensuring students can pass standardized tests, saying more time should be spent on teaching kids the skills and knowledge they need to grow and prosper.

She also said more resources should be dedicated to education because children only have one chance to go through each grade and a year of underfunded education means whole classes of students will have a subpar experience in the critical first- or second-grades, which can have a lasting effect on their schooling.

“Our country is based on public education, and if we don’t work together to ensure they get all they deserve, then shame on us,” she said.

Frank Steele, a supervisor at the city Office of School and Youth Development, spoke about education as well, saying that overcrowding is the pre-eminent issue facing schools in Queens and calling on parents to remain actively involved in their children’s educations.

“There is nothing more important than our future than our children,” he said. “Make sure you keep a watchful eye on what’s happening in your community and in our schools.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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