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District 29 plans to switch some local schools to K-8

"If you keep a child in the same environment from kindergarten to eight, they will do better," School Board 29 President Nat Washington said.

School District 29 covers schools in Queens Village, Springfield Gardens, Laurelton, Rosedale, Rochdale Village, Hollis, Cambria Heights and part of Jamaica as well as Fresh Meadows.

PS 270 in Laurelton and PS 268 in Jamaica, both of which opened in September, and PS 116, also in Jamaica, are scheduled for the change, Washington said. PS 268, currently pre-K-5, will add grades six through eight next fall.

PS 270, which is K-5, and PS 116, which is pre-K-5, will be phased in more slowly, Washington said. At those schools, sixth grade will be added this September, seventh in September 2005 and eighth in September 2006.

In addition to those schools, PS 263 in Queens Village, a 630-seat school scheduled to open on Jamaica Avenue in 2007, will be K-8. PS/IS 208, a school on the new Glen Oaks campus, already has that configuration.

Washington said there are no immediate plans to close or change the middle schools under the current plan. School Board 29 was primarily motivated by a desire to redistribute students so certain schools would not be overcrowded, Washington said, with PS 270, PS 268 and PS 116 having space for more students.

But Washington said there were other benefits to moving to the K-8 model as well, such as giving the students a sense of stability and continuity. He said older youngsters could benefit from the nurturing environment more common in primary schools and that older students could be role models for younger ones.

"They tend to behave better," Washington said of the children in such schools. He acknowledged, however, that some of the parents in his district did not want the younger children mixed in with the older ones.

Washington said his school board proposed the changes before the city's Department of Education announced that it was considering replacing its middle schools with K-8 or 6-12 facilities.

The department does not yet have a set list of schools to be converted to the K-8 model, a spokesman said, and is giving regional superintendents leeway in deciding which configuration is best for their area.

"We were at the forefront of this idea," Washington said, noting that the proposal required the approval of the department's zoning office. He said the city would probably not build any more middle schools, but they would be replaced by K-8 schools not 6-12 facilities.

"That idea I don't think will fly too much," Washington said of the second type.

But even with the K-8 model, some educators warned that redistributing the grades was not a cure-all. Although he has not taken a stance on the issue because he has not seen the research, Shango Blake, the principal of IS 109 in Queens Village, said schools need strong leadership and the participation of students and parents.

Said Blake: "If those ingredients are in place, you'll have success."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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