New StreetWise Blog:
An eye on Howard Beach Schools

By Queens Courier Staff |

Today, the StreetWise blog is focusing on education in Howard Beach. Howard Beach is home to five schools, including three public and two private schools. Howard Beach has schools at educational levels ranging from elementary to junior high and middle school. We visited several schools in the neighborhood, and spoke with several people affiliated with the schools.

P.S. 207 Rockwood Park School

“It’s a very warm and loving school,” said Kelly Sinisgalli, 37, whose three children attend P.S. 207. “The principal greets the children by first name.”

Located at 159-15 88th Street, P.S. 207 serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The school has a cultural arts program, featuring student performances and professional venue visits, and Jean Piaget enrichment classes for the third through eighth grades. P.S. 207 also offers extended day activities, such as student council and ballet.

Parents and grandparents cited school activities, including dance and music, and strong parental involvement as some of the school’s strong points.

"Overall, the quality of the school is very good. If your child is in this school, they are going to do well," said Ivette Ferino, 35, a former Wall Street trading systems specialist whose daughter will be entering fourth grade in September.

As for improvements, several parents agree that they would like to see air conditioners installed in the classrooms.

Another general consensus among parents is a dislike for mayoral control of the school.

“Leave education to educators, not the bureaucrats," says Kelly Sinisgalli’s husband, Lenny, 39.

P.S. 146: The Howard Beach School

Located at 98-01 159th Avenue, the school serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The New York City Department of Education portal for the school said in its mission statement, “P.S. 146Q encourages a desire of learning, academic excellence and respect for one another.”

Mark, 38, of Howard Beach, a parent of a student at the school, said, “"The school is good, it just needs more maintenance.” The schoolyard has broken concrete, and he adds, “Sometimes, I want to come here myself and fix it.”

SallyAnn Sinisgalli, 40, a homemaker from Howard Beach, said the school could be improved by making it bigger and expanding fundraisers to include selling to parents, not just students.

However, she said, she’s “pretty happy with academics – I feel like my child’s safe, getting a good education.”

Visitors to the school must sign in and present identification, so, SallyAnn said, “People don’t just come and go, so you’re not just floating around the hallways.” SallyAnn’s son adds that he likes the school because “I can play here.”

As for mayoral control, Mark says it “probably stinks; they don’t give enough funding where it’s needed,” and Sinisgalli isn’t sure how she feels about it, but adds “I know the teachers hate it.”

Our Lady of Grace School/Ave Maria Academy

Our Lady of Grace School, located at 158-20 101st Street, will be renamed the Ave Maria Academy for the coming school year.

The pastor, Reverend Anthony M. Rucando, said the change in name, from a school to an academy, reflects a change in the structure and governance of the school. The school will go from private and parochial to private and regional, meaning it can draw students from parishes outside of the parish of Our Lady of Grace.

The change was mandated by the Diocese of Brooklyn, which has said that in the next three to five years, all parochial schools in the Diocese will become academies. The history of academy-style schools in the Diocese began approximately four years ago at a school in Brooklyn. The change is designed to help Catholic schools adapt to lower enrollment rates, which can occur following a demographic shift in a neighborhood.

“The future of an academy is open to avenues beyond parochial- akin to the structure of a Catholic high school,” Rucando said.

The new structure will incorporate more involvement from laypeople, including a Board of Directors made up of laypeople.

“The more people get involved, the greater the ability to face challenges,” Rucando said, and added that the change is "broadening the responsibilities of those who are committed to the witness of Catholic education. In the past there was a parochial identity, but in the future it will be community-based with more laypeople to preserve and present Catholic education.”

Rucando said Our Lady of Grace was chosen because it is an example of a school where there is hope for a future.