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Walcott walks halls of crowded Corona school

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Led through the halls by uniformed first-graders, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott toured Corona’s PS 307 yesterday, investigating a school profoundly shaped by overcrowding in the district that needs more new seats than any other in the city.

“I’m very aware of the issues and the challenges,” Walcott said.

PS 307 or Pioneer Academy, at 40-20 100th St. in Corona, is a short walk from PS 19, at 98-02 Roosevelt Ave. Both are in District 24, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Middle Village, Maspeth, Glendale, Ridgewood and Sunnyside and parts of Woodside and is the most crowded school district in the entire city.

Madelene Chan, superintendent of District 24, said in its first year PS 307 took in the overflow from PS 19 and recently began annexing fifth-graders from PS 16, another nearby school at 41-15 104th St. in Corona.

Walcott was joined by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and state Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) as he toured the school. First-grade students led him through the halls. He also visited a classroom, where he heard about how the kids were learning through a project where they pretended to operate a supermarket, and spoke with District 24 parents.

“It was really about Chancellor Walcott getting to see what’s really happening in the school,” Peralta said.

Walcott said he wanted to increase the city Department of Education’s involvement with parents.

“Tell me how we can do a better job for you,” Walcott said to them.

Nuala Odoherty, PTA president at PS 222/Firefighter Christopher A. Santora School at 86-15 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights, said she would like to have the ARIS Parent Link, a website where parents can log in and find information about their child, to provide reading levels for children in early grades. She also said she wanted more accessibility to the parent coordinator.

Another parent, Stephen Taala, whose son goes to PS 255, a school for autism within PS 151 at 50-05 31st Ave. in Woodside, said autistic parents have trouble navigating through the system.

“They feel that the system doesn’t really listen to them, whether it’s the right school for kids or just being able to find services,” Taala said.

Walcott was receptive to the comments, especially the notion of making ARIS more relevant.

Chan praised Walcott, noting how before he left he quickly stopped by to check out the annexed PS 16 students despite his tight schedule.

“I feel that we are very lucky [to have a chancellor] who is so genuine, authoritative and sincere,” Chan said.

Moya thanked Walcott for looking at the issue of school overcrowding seriously.

“For coming out here and showing how much you care,” Moya said.

Peralta said he and Moya would be working to make sure District 24 gets additional seats through six new schools targeted for the district by 2015 and to make sure the city does not lay off teachers.

“If you really want to talk about economic growth, you need to have qualified teachers,” Peralta said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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