Brooklyn, Bronx schools to get push for gifted programs

The borough presidents of the Bronx and Brooklyn are teaming up for a fresh effort to boost gifted programs and access to elite schools in underserved neighborhoods.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will unveil a new task force Monday to tackle unequal access in the city’s gifted programs and specialized high schools.

Adams and Diaz said they are fed up with a system that keeps needy kids from their neighborhoods cut out of the city’s best schools.

“Our children lack gifted programs and adequate test prep resources, among other things, and the results are crystal clear,” Diaz said. “Through this task force, we will work to change that.”

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Both borough presidents have sounded the alarm for years on the unequal distribution of gifted and talented programs and elite schools in disadvantaged areas.

Four local school districts in the Bronx and in Brooklyn have no gifted kindergarten programs, and the Bronx has no citywide gifted program and no middle school gifted program.

The four districts with no gifted kindergarten programs, which include the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville, had no gifted programs at all from 2011 until September 2016, when the city added gifted classes for third-graders in those areas.

The change came after years of pressure by local community groups and elected leaders including the District 16 Community Education Council in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy. 

Studies have shown that students from wealthier city neighborhood are more likely to attend specialized high schools, with lower numbers of students coming from poorer areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn.

The borough presidents’ new task force will include city officials, community leaders and parents. The group will host public hearings in March and will issue a set of policy recommendations for the city Education Department sometime before the start of the next school year in September.

Adams said that too often, gifted kids from hardscrabble neighborhoods are shut out of suitable classes.

“Our students’ home addresses are playing too heavy a role in their access to high-quality specialized education,” Adams said. “This task force will uproot the causes of these challenges.”

The city Education Department has undertaken a number of efforts to increase access to gifted programs under Mayor de Blasio.

In addition to creating new gifted classes, the city distributed post cards with information on how to apply to gifted programs at all city pre-kindergarten programs for the first time in the 2016-17 school year.

Education Department spokesman Will Mantell said the city is working to strengthen elementary school instruction across all five boroughs.

“We’re committed to providing high-quality instruction at all elementary schools, and gifted and talented programs are one option for students and families,” Mantell said.

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