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Briarwood slams DOE plan to add grade at school

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Borough residents aired concerns last week that the addition of a sixth-grade to Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, which will move from 87th Road to Goethals Avenue in Briarwood next year, will negatively affect the staff, students and surrounding neighborhood.

Some school officials, however, said they embraced the change, arguing it would only enhance a school ranked favorably by U.S. News & World Report.

About 40 people attended an April 13 public hearing at the Briarwood school on adding the sixth-grade, which will move from 150-91 87th Road to 160-20 Goethals Ave. beginning in the 2010-11 school year. The grade expansion, making the school a 6-12 institution, will create approximately 80 to 100 sixth-grade seats in District 28, according to the city Department of Education.

“The staff did not agree with the grade reconfigur­ation,” said Eleanor Hundley, the head of Gateway’s chapter of the United Federation of Teachers. “If it does carry, we were more in favor of the transition taking place in the 2011-12 school year as we’re moving into a new facility and this would allow for more planning.”

Area residents Jackie Forrestal and Kathy Forrestal criticized the plan, saying the district needs additional high school, not sixth-grade, seats to alleviate overcrowded classrooms.

“Queens is starving for high school seats,” Kathy Forrestal said.

Vanessa Sparks, the first Parent Teacher Association president of the Gateway School, said the plan makes little sense for the area, since there are about 14 elementary schools in District 28 that run through sixth-grade — thereby making it difficult for Gateway and the surrounding schools to coordinate plans for students to enter the science-focused school.

“There’d be no alignment between our elementary schools and Queens Gateway,” Sparks said. “You cannot even consider making this a sixth-through-12th school.”

Gateway Principal Cynthia Edwards called adding the sixth-grade “necessary” to strengthen a school that was awarded silver-medal status by U.S. News & World Report in 2010. The status indicates the school did not place in the top 100 secondary institutions in the country, but performed well in preparing students for college.

“It helps to build learning bridges from one grade to the next,” said Edwards, who noted it helps to better bond the students and teachers because they are together for the students’ entire secondary career.

Ilisa Sulner, principal of Q752 in Jamaica, said she was thrilled with the decision to add a grade, particularly because a number of autistic students from her school are expected to attend school at Gateway’s new site.

This move to bring them into a mainstream setting will help the students to become “independent, stable citizens of our city,” said Sulner.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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