Protect pre-K at PS 303

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We are deeply troubled about proposals to cut down or eliminate pre-K programs at PS 303 beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.  Signers of this petition oppose these proposals and affirm our dedication to our school’s pre-K programs.

We hope that the Department of Education and key stakeholders will take notice of this petition and protect this crucial early education program in Forest Hills.  In 2015, elected officials protected PS 144 and PS 196 from cuts to their pre-K programs (DNAInfo).  We hope that the same will be done for PS 303 now.

As discussed below, the negative effects of cutting pre-K at PS 303 would ripple throughout our classrooms, communities, and homes:

  • It would undermine our city’s successes in expanding universal pre-K;
  • It would further deplete scarce pre-K seats in the public schools of Forest Hills;
  • It would make PS 303 the only Forest Hills public school without two pre-K classes;
  • It would require a resource-intensive, lengthy review process under the Chancellor’s regulations;
  • It would hurt the families of PS 303, present and future;
  • It would require the termination of PS 303 staff;
  • And, it would upset the wonderful learning environment that PS 303 has cultivated over the past decade.

We stand with our city as it forges forward in offering early education at all of New York City’s public schools, including at PS 303.  We support this petition and oppose any proposal to cut pre-K.

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Who supports this petition to protect PS 303’s pre-K programs?

Many signers of this petition are PS 303 families.  That includes families who already have older children at PS 303, and who will apply for their younger children to join PS 303’s pre-K in the coming years.  If the proposal to cut pre-K moves forward, all of PS 303’s families will be negatively impacted, but especially those who planned to send their younger children to the school.  Signers of this petition also include community members who appreciate the importance of maintaining early education programs in Forest Hills, including at PS 303.

 

 

Why do some parents of third-graders want to cut pre-K?

By way of background, PS 303 is amid a large-scale expansion plan, which was originally projected to be done by September 2018.  Thus, this year’s third-graders were hoping to stay at PS 303 for fourth grade next year.  But, due to a delay in the completion date – to September 2019 – a fourth-grade program in 2018 is no longer possible.  So, PS 303 will return to its customary approach of graduating third-graders into other nearby, outstanding Forest Hills schools, like PS 101, PS 144, and PS 196. 

Notwithstanding those options, some parents of third-graders are asking that PS 303 replace pre-K with fourth-grade.  To avoid cutting both pre-K classes, one proposal requests one fourth-grade class and one pre-K class.  However, that proposal does not appear to be a viable option for PS 303.  In all likelihood, a proposal for having fourth-grade classes will require eliminating the entire pre-K program.

PS 303 is a tight-knit community, and as families we are friends.  Everyone feels for parents who were expecting to have their third-graders stay at PS 303. We all wish that the expansion had not been delayed.  However, our disappointment should not compel us to sacrifice pre-K programs and endanger the long-term well-being of PS 303.  

 

What will happen if pre-K is eliminated?

By cutting pre-K at our school, the community and its families would lose.  Rising pre-K students – unlike their rising fourth-grade counterparts – have very limited alternatives.  Pre-K spots in local public schools are already exceedingly rare.  Each year, hundreds upon hundreds of applicants vie for thirty-six spots at Forest Hills’ four public schools.  Securing a seat has become an epic, annual struggle:

 

2013 - Forest Hills Parents Compete for Scarce Full-Day Pre-K Programs

All three [pre-K] programs [at PS 101, PS 196, and PS 303] are excellent, which makes them even more desirable, but every year, kids from hundreds of families don't make the cut because of the limited number of seats, parents said. DNAInfo.

2015 – As Kindergarten Waitlists Clear in Forest Hills, Pre-K Seats Are in Demand 

[P]arents and elected officials urged the DOE to find a way to add more pre-K seats at local public schools … [S]everal elected officials, including Katz, Koslowitz and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, sent a letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña saying that scaling back on pre-K seats is unacceptable.  DNAInfo.

 2016 – Parents of pre-K kids facing tough choices:

Nearly one year to the day since dozens of Forest Hills parents first hit the Department of Education over their kindergartners not getting into their zoned school, some mothers of pre-K students are feeling that same frustration.  Queens Chronicle.

Eliminating pre-K at PS 303 would only exacerbate this perennial problem.

 

What are the legal hurdles to cutting pre-K? 

An expansion plan is already underway that will triple the school in size by 2019.  Cutting pre-K and introducing fourth grade amidst this expansion would introduce an unnecessary layer of complexity to an already ambitious school-wide transition. 

And, regulatory requirements mean any proposal to scale back pre-K will require much effort.  Because this proposal requests reconfiguring the grades being offered at PS 303, it would likely require approval under Chancellor’s Regulation No. A-190. 

The proposal triggers an arduous, multi-step process.  First, the Chancellor must prepare an Educational Impact Statement (EIS) for the Community Education Council (CEC), the impacted community boards, the community superintendent, the SLT, and the public.  Second, there must be a joint public hearing at least 30 days after the EIS is published.  Third, there are notice-and-comment requirements before the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) votes on the proposal.  Any revised proposals must be republished and renoticed, further lengthening the process.

This proposal will expend scarce resources and generate uncertainty about PS 303’s future.  Families will be put between a rock and a hard place.  The A-190 process would run parallel to the 2018 – 2019 application process.  On the one hand, the 2018 Kindergarten guide promises pre-K spots at PS 303 next year, with top priority for many PS 303 families.  However, we won’t know whether PS 303 will actually have pre-K spots next year, or anymore, until the A-190 process runs its course.

 

Which grade levels has PS 303 offered in the past?

PS 303 has offered pre-K every year since it was introduced.  And since that time, PS 303 has championed UPK, weaving it into the school’s educational fabric.  For several years now, the DOE’s Kindergarten Directory for Queens has classified PS 303 as a PK-3 school that gives top priority to younger siblings entering pre-K.

Conversely, a fourth-grade spot at PS 303 has never been guaranteed or offered.  PS 303 has always had a terminal grade of third grade.  Year after year, the school’s third-graders graduate and continue their elementary school education at other excellent local schools, like PS 101, PS 144, and PS 196.  The 2018 Kindergarten directory has already been published and confirms this fact.  For 2018, the DOE again classifies PS 303 as a school that terminates at third grade, offers pre-K, and gives first priority to applicants who are younger siblings of current students.  PS 303 families are already planning to send our younger kids to pre-K next year alongside their older siblings. 

 

For how long have families known about the expansion delay at PS 303?

Understandably, there is disappointment with the expansion delay.  Originally, the postponed expansion was announced around April 2016:  “The addition was originally supposed to open in 2018, according to a February post by the PTA on its website, but that date has been postponed to September 2019.”  Work on PS 303’s addition to start soon, Queens Chronicle, April 28, 2016. 

This delay is still upsetting nearly two years later.  Thankfully, families have had ample notice of the delay to plan accordingly.  PS 303’s annual process for graduates has not changed.  Each year, graduates transition into fourth and fifth grades at other excellent local elementary schools, like PS 101, PS 144, and PS 196.  District 28 has had formulated a workable solution for all of PS 303’s third-grade graduates, year after year.  The approach worked just fine in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.  We should not do away with it next year.

 

What will happen at PS 303 if its pre-K program is cut? 

To start, PS 303 would be placed in the unenviable position as the only elementary school in Forest Hills without two pre-K classes.  PS 101, PS 144, and PS 196 all do.

With this proposal implemented, our PS 303 students will also suffer academically.  School statistics show that children who do not begin in the school’s pre-K program perform significantly worse than their peers who did.  That fact speaks to the importance of starting our children early in pre-K.  From a financial standpoint, families will need to spend significant sums of money to secure care for their young children. 

Fundamentally, this proposal would endanger the tight-knit environment that PS 303’s staff carefully nurtured over the past decade.  Here is what our school would have to do if pre-K is reduced or eliminated:

  • Refurnish existing classrooms for use by fourth-graders;
  • Prepare a new fourth-grade curriculum;
  • Incur additional expenses;
  • And most regrettably, terminate dedicated PS 303 staff members.

PS 303 is special and successful because of its people.  Turnover is incredibly low, staff morale is very strong, families are happy, and students’ performance is second-to-none.  Administrators, teachers, and support staff work hand-in-hand every day.  There’s a great system in place.  The proposal would jeopardize all this to make a one-time exception for the limited benefit of a subset of students.  Ultimately, this trade-off will benefit a few at the expense of everyone else. 

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By opposing all proposals to cut or eliminate pre-K, we remain committed to this invaluable program at PS 303 for our community.  Stakeholders, we respectfully ask that you protect our school’s pre-K programs.  Thank you.



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