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CDEC 29 to hit the books on middle-school choice program

TimesLedger Newspapers

Members of southeast Queens’ education council pledged last week to do their homework when considering a controversial plan that would allow parents to choose a middle school for their children.

The Community Education Council for District 29 — which stretches from Queens Village in the north down to Rosedale in the south and roughly to Merrick Boulevard in the west — has the ultimate say on implementing school choice for its 15 middle schools.

Students currently attend the middle school for which they are zoned, and if the program were implemented parents could apply to any middle school in the district, although the plan is not without controversy.

“Just because you choose a school, that doesn’t mean that the school is going to choose you,” said CEC member William McDonald, a borough president appointee whose children are now college-age. “Those of us who have been through the high school process know that all too well.”

McDonald said he was worried choice would create an environment in which the district’s best students congregate in a few, high-performing schools, leaving the rest with the task of educating large populations of struggling students.

“When you have so many middle schools in a district and you have a whole block of students apply to these middle schools, everyone wants to get into the best schools. You can’t blame them,” he said. “But what we as council members, public officials, have to look at is the big picture. We’ve got to look at the district from north to south, from east to west.”

He said the council would consider all stake holders.

Vanessa Sparks, former vice president of CDEC 28, which borders District 29 to the west and voted to implement choice, urged the council to take its time when deciding.

“We took almost two years to really study, get the data before coming to the decision,” she said.

Kelinda Reed, who has a child in Jamaica’s PS/IS 268, said she was surprised when she moved to Queens from Brooklyn to find out District 29 did not have middle school choice.

“I know this sounds selfish, but I feel like I just have to look out for my child,” she said.

If the council voted to approve middle school choice this year, it would not be implemented until the fall of 2014, although CDEC 29 President Alicia Hyndman said the council had not yet made plans to take a vote. According to an online survey, she said, about 84 percent of parents in the district were in favor of the proposal.

Council member Bill Perkins cautioned against thinking the plan would be a quick fix for the district’s students who have academic problems.

“I hope everyone here doesn’t think that this is a silver bullet, because it’s not. Middle school choice is an action we can take to try to change the course that we are going on,” he said. “There are other root causes to why our children are in the situation they’re in now.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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