2001-01-03 / Front Page

Queens Schools Better Than NYC Average, But Overcrowded

by linda j. wilson

Queens Schools Better Than NYC Average,
But Overcrowded

"Overall, Queens schools are better than the city-wide average, but we still need to pull ourselves up," Terri Thomson, Queens representative to the central Board of Education, told the Queens Borough Board at the board's December meeting. Thomson, according to Borough President Claire Shulman, the first person to discover that funding for Queens schools was predicated on extremely unreliable sources and call for the situation to be rectified, told the board that high school graduation rates in Queens exceed the city-wide rate of 50.1 percent by 11.3 percent and that the dropout rate of 11.8 percent is lower by 5.7 percent than the city-wide 17.5 percent rate. Some 77 percent of Queens high school students meet English requirements for graduation and 85.8 percent meet mathematics requirements, compared to 70.7 and 80.8 percent, respectively, for the city as a whole.

Queens high schools also acquitted themselves well on results of the Regents examinations for 2000, Thomson said. Of 145 schools holding Regents English examinations, Townsend Harris H.S. in Flushing placed first in New York City. Harris also placed first in Regents mathematics exams out of 144 schools administering the examination. Thomas Edison H.S., Jamaica, ranked fifth in the city in the two examinations, and the Academy of American Studies, an alternative high school for immigrants in Long Island City, ranked seventh.

Other Queens high schools, notably R.F. Kennedy, in Flushing, Benjamin Cardozo and Bayside H.S., both in Bayside, and Queens Gateway to Health Sciences, Jamaica, scored among the top 50 schools. Other high schools in the borough did not fare as well, however, with Newtown (Elmhurst), John Adams (Ozone Park) and Franklin K. Lane scoring near the bottom.

Although operating at 105 percent of capacity, Harris students still scored well on the Regents English and math examinations. Gateway, at 107 percent and Kennedy at 111 percent capacity also did well despite overcrowding; as noted, Kennedy placed 11th in the city on Regents exams. However, other schools suffering from swelling enrollments, show a correlation between overcrowding and poor Regents results: Newtown H.S., at 206 percent of capacity the most overcrowded high school in the borough (4,583 students try to study in a school built to hold 2,227) ranked 105th in the city on Regents exams and Richmond Hill H.S., the next most overcrowded school in Queens at 185 percent of capacity with 3,209 students jammed into a school with 1,738-person capacity, ranked 85th in the city on Regents exams.

Elementary and junior high school students exceeded city norms on reading and mathematics test scores administered in grades three through eight, albeit narrowly. Some 47 percent of students in these grades met or exceeded standards for reading and 41.6 percent met or exceeded math standards compared to 39.8 and 33.7 percent, respectively, city-wide. Of the borough's seven school districts, District 26, in Bayside, Douglaston and other neighborhoods in eastern Queens, led in percentages of students meeting or exceeding grade standards, with 74.7 percent in reading and 71 percent in math. District 27, with offices in Ozone Park, showed lowest reading scores for the borough, at 35.5 percent, and second lowest math scores: 31.7 percent. District 29 scored second lowest in the borough in reading at 42.9 percent and lowest in Math at 31 percent. The district showing the lowest number of students meeting or exceeding reading standards for their grade was District 24, at 41.9 percent. District 24 was third lowest in math results, however, at 35.7 percent. School district 25 came in second highest, with 56.7 percent of students meeting or exceeding reading standards for their grade and 55 percent meeting or exceeding math standards.

In District 30, P.S. 111 in Long Island City was removed from Schools Chancellor Harold Levy's Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) list as having brought its performance up to accepted standards. Three other schools, all in District 27, were on the SURR list as of August 2000: P.S. 43, Far Rockaway, P.S. 123, Ozone Park, and J.H.S 198, Arverne.

John Adams H.S., Ozone Park, is another severely overcrowded school, with 3,873 students in a school built for 2,493, it operates at 162 percent of capacity. William Cullen Bryant H.S. in Long Island City operates at 155 percent of capacity, with 4,087 students enrolled in a building constructed for 2,637. Even the newest high school building in the borough, Long Island City H.S., has 3,337 students crowded into a school meant to hold 2,501--133 percent of capacity.

Thomson and Shulman noted that borough high schools are so overcrowded that instruction periods were cut back to six a day to accommodate all the students. "New York state gave Queens a waiver to allow for fewer class periods, and it's really unfair," she said. One possible solution to the high school student crunch is year-round schooling, and Thomson cited a report released by a Board of Education Task Force in October recommending that schools hold classes all year. In September, the report noted, the task force recommended a year-round program be implemented in all newly created public high schools funded by the city five-year school capital funding plan, that all schools be schools of choice for students, faculty and staff, and that enrollment be capped to prevent further overcrowding.

To implement the task force proposal legislation must be enacted by the state assembly and senate to allow the newly created high schools to operate under an alternative calendar. Students who select these schools would attend under a year-round calendar. Intermission breaks would provide accelerated and remedial learning opportunities. Pre-existing schools moving into new buildings would not be eligible to convert to year-round calendars. Of the 14 high schools in the five-year capital plan, 10 are in Queens. Of those 10, five are scheduled to open in September 2003, two in September 2004, one in April 2005 and two in May 2006.

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