On the eve of Carmen Fariña’s 100th day as schools chancellor, the Panel for Educational Policy gave one of her initiatives an official green light and approved a controversial plan for a Queens elementary school.
At the Wednesday meeting, the Panel voted unanimously to require new principals to have at least seven years of experience, a change Fariña first proposed in January. Farina called the resolution her “special pet,” and said it would give city school leaders more credibility as business leaders are increasingly hired to run schools nationwide.
But most of the meeting was taken up by debate over a plan to bus over 200 Queens kindergartners and first graders from their zoned school in Woodside to an elementary school three miles away in Astoria. The three-year temporary relocation of the school’s youngest students will accommodate construction plans for a new building at P.S. 11.
The busing plan has raised a variety of questions for parents, who say they are worried about the safety of the children on the bus and large class sizes for the students remaining at P.S. 11 as construction continues.
Some of the school’s second grade class sizes could jump to as many as 46 students, though school leaders say those classrooms would be equipped with at least two teachers. District 30, home to P.S. 11 and P.S. 171, already has some of the most crowded schools in Queens.
“I don’t see how we can expect children who are six, seven and eight years old to focus their attention on one side of the room every single day for 180 days for two or three years in a row when there are so many distractions going on around them,” said Rachel Thompson, the mother of a second grader at P.S. 11.
Fariña said that all of the available options in a three-mile radius of the school had been considered, and acknowledged that moving forward with the original proposal was still an imperfect solution for some parents.
But Panel members were eager to show they had done their due diligence in deciding on a plan for P.S. 11.
Deborah Dillingham, the Queens borough president’s appointee to the panel who voted against the plan, said she had gone herself to time the commute between P.S. 11 and P.S. 171 before attending the meeting. Other Panel members told personal stories about sending their kids to school for the first time.
P.S. 11 Principal Anna Ekfarpides said that school and district administrators exhausted all options, considering both parochial and public schools, before choosing P.S. 171.
“Everyone agreed, even the ones that did not like the bus ride, that 171 would provide the environment that can give our children the best education with the most resources that they deserve,” she said.
Despite the division on the issue, Brooklyn representative Fred Baptiste congratulated Fariña on her efforts to foster a more hands-on panel.
“It’s not easy to come in the evening, but it’s even harder to do your homework during the day,” Fariña said.