By Evan Triantafilidis
The elimination of the Gifted and Talented (G&T) program in city schools has left some parents and elected officials in Queens upset over the sudden change handed down earlier this month by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Kathy Yan, co-president of the PS 203 Parent Teachers Association, said an informed decision about removing the G&T programs couldn’t and shouldn’t be made without speaking to those affected by it during a rally outside the Oakland Gardens school last week.
“I think as parents, it’s just frustrating,” said Yan, who has kids in G&T programs. “I’m sure the program has to be revamped somehow, but eliminating it entirely is not the solution. I think the greater problem here is that there wasn’t any parent engagement.”
A graduate of PS 203 and the city G&T program, State Senator John Liu said the outgoing mayor’s decision to pull the plug on the program sends thousands of families into limbo and uncertainty just as a new administration is set to take over.
“They have always been a part of New York City’s public schools,” said Liu. “Are changes necessary? Perhaps, but the mayor doesn’t know anything about these changes.”
Mayor de Blasio announced the program would be replaced by “Brilliant NYC” and reach 26 times more students than the current G&T program. Students in first grade and up who are already in G&T programs will be allowed to complete the program.
Going forward, overachieving students will now be served on an individualized basis instead of being admitted into classes that are separate from the rest of the student body.
In 2019, a total of 32,841 students took the exam and about 20 percent of test takers achieved a score high enough to apply for the G&T program.
Mayor de Blasio argues a more widespread approach will make for a more inclusive model. While Black and Latino children make up the majority — 65 percent — of city students, the G&T programs enroll more than 75 percent of students who are either white or Asian.
“The mayor has made a decision without consulting the community,” said City Council candidate Linda Lee. “I think instead of taking a program like this away, we need to expand it. It’s a much deeper, much harder issue we need to address.”
State Senators Joseph Addabbo and Toby Stavisky are sponsoring a bill that would expand and improve gifted and talented programs statewide.
The bill would allow students to be admitted to advanced classes at the elementary school level via academic merit, rather than an admissions examination giving some gifted children, who may not perform well in a test setting, an avenue for admission to these programs.
Additionally, the legislation would create more advanced and G&T programs and classes, creating a pathway for top students to develop throughout their time in elementary and intermediate schools.
“I understand the desire to increase diversity in our Gifted and Talented programs, but getting rid of the program and exchanging it with a replacement program that is dumped on us with minimal parent input isn’t the answer,” said Addabbo. “With such a small fraction of students in the Gifted and Talented program, and the amount of controversy generated by talks of eliminating it, it’s apparent the real need should be to focus on fixing the system for everybody.”
(Nicholas Loud contributed reporting to this article.)