Parents, pols push back against plan to eliminate elite NYC elementary school classrooms

Local News

NEW YORK — Saying the current system discriminates and fails the majority of student, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday explained his vision for dismantling the gifted and talented public school program.

However, his push comes less than three months before he leaves office and in the face of fierce opposition.

Every day, Luigi Kapaj drives his 9-year-old and 5-year-old from their Staten Island home to an elite gifted and talented elementary school in East Harlem.

“With traffic, it’s an hour and 15 or so and that’s each way with traffic,” he said.

Kapaj knows most families with high achieving young students cannot make brutal commutes like this work.  He believes gifted and talented programs should be expanded to more schools in more neighborhoods.

As such, he called de Blasio’s plan for eliminating the high preforming program altogether “ridiculous.”

However, de Blasio, detailing the changes for the first time Tuesday, called ending gifted and talented as we know it, addition by subtraction.

De Blasio said the current program, which serves about 4% of incoming kindergarten students, will stay for children already enrolled.  But ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, there will be no more testing 4-year-olds, which was eliminated anyway amidst the pandemic.

Beginning next year there will be no more special classrooms just for incoming gifted students. Instead, teachers will do accelerated learning for advanced student in every classroom.  There will be some specialized programming beginning in the later elementary years.

“We can figure out different levels and speeds different kids need, and support them all within the same classroom,” de Blasio promised.

Kapaj told us he does not see teachers being able to give gifted students the level of attention they need.

“The kids are doing better than the rest of the class, you do not have to focus on them, they’re already learning material, and will get ignored,” he said.

Republican lawmakers also ripped the last minute move by de Blasio with less than three months left in office.

“He is blowing up a program that has elevated thousands and thousands of students out of poverty and onto successful lives,” Staten Island republican Councilman Joe Borelli said.

Others pointed out that both leading candidates for mayor support expanding, not eliminating, the programs, making the mayor’s plan moot.

“All this does is create a mess for whoever the next mayor will be,” said Mike Tannousis, a Staten Island assemblyman.

The mayor said Tuesday he is confident both Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa will hear from parents that this will help more students and be popular.

Adams, the Democrat heavily favored to win, would not commit to keeping any changes de Blasio made.

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