The inaugural freshman class has been expanded to approximately 350 seats from 250, said Debra Kurshan, the director of the Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Portfolio Planning.
Kurshan said the decision resulted from talks with community leaders and residents who wanted the high school - set to open on a campus at 91-30 Metropolitan Avenue that will also house a new middle school - to seat more students in its first year.
“We’re trying to be responsive” to community concerns, Kurshan said.
The larger class means that in its first year the 1,000-seat school will operate at roughly 33 percent capacity, instead of 25 percent, before expanding by one grade each year until it is filled in 2013.
Kurshan also said the DOE is considering incubating the high school in the fall of 2011 with the first class of students slated for the new high school being built in Maspeth.
That plan would have the Queens Metropolitan High School house its own ninth and tenth grade classes alongside a Maspeth High School ninth grade class in 2011-2012, Kurshan said. Under that year-long arrangement, the two schools would operate independently, she said.
Then the following year, the Maspeth students would move back to their Maspeth site, where they would be joined in the new high school by an incoming freshman class.
Kurshan stressed that the DOE is still only considering the incubation plan - to approve it would require a public hearing, she said. Before setting the plan in motion she said the Education Department would consult with local elected officials and residents to gain their input.
“We want to work with the community before doing that,” she said.
She acknowledged community concerns that the Queens Metropolitan High School would operate under capacity for several years in a borough plagued by overcrowded high schools.
But she pointed out that alternate suggestions to open the school at full or half capacity would require large numbers of students to transfer from their existing schools, something the DOE cannot force students to do.
“We can’t force students to leave” their schools, she said, adding that transferring mid-high school career can also be disruptive academically.
The plan to phase in grades represents the best way to ensure the school’s long-term success because it allows rising freshman to make a more natural academic transition to the new school, Kurshan said.
“We want to set this school up to be successful,” she said.
On the issue of zoning, Kurshan noted that the school is officially “locally zoned,” and referred to a DOE siting sheet on the school that indicates a preference for Community Education Council (CEC) districts 28 and 24.
But Kurshan did not confirm previous reports that the school’s 1,000 seats would be split evenly between the two districts, saying she has not seen that arrangement in writing.
Various communities who want access to the school are contesting the zoning. Community Board 5’s preference for an even split between districts 28 and 24 has drawn the ire of residents in Forest Hills who contend they need more seats.
In its most recent monthly publication, the Forest Hills Community and Civic Association stated that residents of CEC24 “want more - much more.”
“Not only do they want more seats but also to utilize the school until Maspeth H.S. opens,” the newsletter stated, adding that it is highly unlikely once they start there the students would want to transfer back to Maspeth.
Kurshan said DOE worked with numerous civic groups to “design a zone that would be the right size.”
She said the Education Department would hold information sessions, open houses, and plans to send out mailings encouraging students and their families to consider the new school. “I hope that people choose to go there,” Kurshan said.