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The drama of the city’s school bus strike officially ended more than a week ago—but you wouldn’t know it at my kid’s bus stop.
When the bus drivers’ union called off the strike last week, my sympathy for its members—who had lost nearly a month’s pay and gained almost nothing—was mixed with relief at the prospect of finally getting to work on time. My 6-year-old goes to school three miles and a tricky subway ride from our home in Brooklyn. I have a job in Manhattan. The school bus is the magic that allows those realities to coexist.
My relief was doomed to a short life: We waited at our regular stop that day, but the bus never came. It didn’t show up the next day either, nor the next. When the bus finally did appear at our stop—six days after the strike was over—it had a new driver, who looked to be reading directions off the back of an envelope. He seemed like a nice guy, if a little bewildered to be navigating a neighborhood he didn’t know with a bus full of kids, but he couldn’t say whether he’d continue to be assigned to the route. I can’t say either, because the bus skipped our stop again the next day.
Somewhere between my son's annual science fair last year and his most recent monthly book report, I have turned into that kind of parent. You know, the kind who becomes so attached to designing and building the paper-mâché volcano that their child's involvement becomes quite beside the point?
It started out innocently enough: my idea was for Brooks to write a song about "Scaredy-Cat Catcher," a chapter book we had been reading together. Yes, it was my idea, but in my defense, I only presented it because my son's idea was to repeat a project we had done the last time (which had been my husband's idea).
On the plus side, Brooks was very involved with many aspects of this perhaps overly-ambitious project. We read the book together twice over a period of a few weeks and outlined the basic storyline. And then Brooks came up with the chorus on his own: he simply started to improvise and I picked out one of his catchier melodic phrases that rhymed.
Most children in Queens attend their neighborhood elementary schools, and there isn’t a lot of room for shopping around. However, if you are dissatisfied with your zoned school, here are some possibilities.
The most crowded district in the city, District 24 has had three new non-zoned elementary schools open up since 2010 to ease the overcrowding, including PS 290, PS 330, and PS 110, which opened in the fall of 2012.
District 25, serving Bayside and Flushing, has three well-regarded early childhood schools for grades K-3 which are open to children across the district: PS 130, PS 242 Leonard P. Stavisky Early Childhood School, and the Active Learning Elementary School. The Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology, a K-8 school hosted on the Queens College campus, accepts students by lottery from all over Queens.
PS 201 The Discovery School for Inquiry and Research, has a magnet grant, so children may apply from outside the zone.
PS/IS 266 in Bellerose accepts children from across District 26 through a lottery and shares a campus with PS/IS 208 and the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences.
Some neighborhood schools in the district also sometimes accept students from outside the zone. PS 031 Bayside and PS 046 Alley Pond have had some room for a few students from outside the zone in recent years.
Goldie Maple Academy is open to students throughout District 27.
The Academy for Excellence through the Arts is a small, arts-focused early childhood school open to applicants from throughout the district. PS 80 Thurgood Marshall offers a gifted and talented program that is not part of the city's gifted program, and while most general education students are from the zone, the school does maintain a waiting list for a small number of out-of-zone children.
Four schools in District 29 accept students by lottery, three of them are K-8 schools and a fourth is an early childhood school. All are housed in attractive well-equipped buildings and are open district-wide: PS/IS 208, PS 251, PS/IS 268, and the Gordon Parks School.
While District 30 does not have any non-zoned schools, some neighborhood schools have accepted out-of-zone students over the past few years. Some strong schools with dual language programs accept a few students from outside the zone each year, including PS 166 Henry Gradstein, PS Q222 Fire Fighter Christopher A. Santora School, and PS 228 Early Childhood Magnet School of the Arts.
I am very concerned about the the direction that kindergarten is going. When will people realize these are babies, who deserve to play and learn at their own pace, mostly out and about in the world? Five year olds should not be taught material that's intended for 6-year-old brains, developmentally. Five year olds should not be asked to sit doing worksheets for hours a day, but that's what most teachers are doing now. Must I send my child to kindergarten? I would prefer to keep her away from all formal schooling until she is 6 or 7 (like the kids in Finland) but I am afraid I would be breaking the law.
Dear Kg concerned,
The last time I explored this with DOE staffers, I was assured that the object of the law was not to "go after" the parents who do not send their child to kindergarten. Their concern is for the kids who were not let into crowded schools because kindergarten was not required. You may keep her out of kindergarten but you must enroll her for 1st grade (unless you decide to homeschool -- more on how to do that below.)
As my eldest son prepares to enter kindergarten this fall, I can think of little else. I’ve entered charter school lotteries, toured our zoned school and the just-out-of-zone schools that we could get bumped to if ours fills up. Anyone I talk to who has a child or even knows a child is sure to hear about my worries: Is Noodle ready for the chaos of our local progressive elementary school? Would team-teaching or gen ed be the better choice? Would the structure of a Success Academy be helpful or would Eva Moskowitz beat all the creativity out of him with her much-vaunted four-inch heels? So the other day when my husband off-handedly asked, “You signed up for kindergarten, right?” I had to shuffle my feet like a nervous preschooler. “Um, no. Not yet.”
I have four days until the DOE application deadline. Considering that I’m the kind of person who has been known to RSVP to parties after they’re over, four days feels like an eternity. Still, I know I’m playing with matches. If something goes wrong and I can't register, Noodle becomes a pawn of the DOE, placed wherever there’s an empty seat. I’ve come close to applying. I really have. But things keep getting in the way. Doctor appointments, school tours and writing are just a few of my excuses.
Just scrambling to find all the paperwork to prove that I live where I say I live has been surprisingly difficult. Who gets Con Ed bills in the mail anymore? Pay stubs on paper? Please. After weeks of killing trees and commiserating with other moms, I finally have my packet ready: birth certificate, a copy of our lease, my husband’s W2, and a not-so-nice letter from the IRS that, though embarrassing, has our address on it. So what’s holding me back?
Quite simply, I’m just not excited. What should be a wondrous rite of passage for my son has become a subject of anxiety and compromised ideals. At the very mention of the word “kindergarten” I let out a large sigh, feel my blood pressure rise and launch into an increasingly well-rehearsed rant. In my quest to ensure that Noodle’s kindergarten experience is perfect, I’ve already made it unbearable.
Parents should submit applications for kindergarten by March 1, particularly if they want to explore options outside their zoned neighborhood school. You may apply directly to as many schools as you like: be sure to bring your child's birth certificate and proof of address. You'll find out in April if your child has a seat.
In most cases, you are guaranteed a seat in your zoned neighborhood school--whether you apply now or later in the spring or summer. But if you want to consider all your options (or if your neighborhood school is so crowded that it has a waitlist) now is the time to get started.
We've researched some neighborhood schools that may have room for children outside the zone, dual language programs and unzoned schools that select via lottery in Brooklyn and Staten Island, the city's largest and smallest boroughs. The city's new elementary school directory is another useful source of information. We'll offer another post on charter school options next month.
District 13: Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, part of Park Slope & Brooklyn Heights
Arts and Letters in Fort Greene is a highly sought after school that holds a lottery for kindergarten admissions. PS 133, a small school in lower Park Slope which was displaced for several years, is moving into a new building in September. It is now unzoned and serves both districts 13 and 15. It offers dual language programs in French and Spanish. PS 11 and PS 20 in Clinton Hill usually have space for out of zone children, even though PS 20 may not let you know until suimmer. PS 9 in Prospect Heights has a dual language program that takes native Spanish speakers from out of zone. PS 307 offers the only Mandarin Chinese dual language program in the district. PS 282 in Park Slope is a traditional K-8 school that is a top pick for many out-of-zone parents.
State math and reading exams will be harder to pass this year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned parents, and more children will likely fail. For the first time the state-mandated tests will be aligned with the new Common Core standards and, Walcott says, "will be more difficult to pass." In a break from the past, however, failing -- scoring a level 1 out of 4 - will not mean automatic holdover for children in grades 3 to 8.
Instead, the chancellor said in a letter to parents, the DOE "will look at students' overall scores-how many questions each student got right. Students with the lowest scores will be recommended for summer school."
Since 2004 when Mayor Bloomberg ended so-called "social promotion," all students who scored a 1 on either the reading or math exam were sent to summer school. This year students who score in the bottom 10 percent will be required to go to summer school and retake the exams in August, NY1 reports. The city anticipates that the number of students requiring summer classes to be promoted to the next grade will be about the same as last year.
The yearly high-stakes tests also affect admission to selective middle and high schools. Cut-off scores for acceptance may be lower this year, but Walcott said, "students who earn the highest scores-even if those scores are lower than in past years-will still have access to screened middle and high schools."
Students this year will have to read and respond to longer and more challenging passages than in previous years. Third graders will be expected to read 500-600 word excerpts from books such as Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach or The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. Eighth graders will read 900-1,000 word passages from classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Richard Wright’s Native Son. Third and 4th graders will have less time to complete the math exams than on previous years' tests. Test guides for every grade's reading and math exams are posted on the state education department's website.
This year's ELA (English Language Arts) exams will be given on April 16-18; math tests will be the following week, April 24-26.
Hearings began around the city last night regarding the future of 22 schools the Education Department has deemed failing and wants to close. In the midst of protests by students and parents clamoring for their schools to remain open, the DOE held out a carrot to students: they will be allowed to transfer to higher-performing schools.
Saying he felt a "moral imperative" to offer options to students in low-performing schools, Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor at the DOE, told reporters about the new policy shortly before school closure hearings began last night. Information about the transfer plan will be distributed to all affected schools and at hearings, he said. The Panel on Educational Policy will vote on the school phaseouts at two meetings in March at Brooklyn Tech. If they are approved, as is likely, affected students will receive an application to transfer in the mail. Families will have about a month to reply and will hear the outcome in late June, at the end of the school year. There is no guarantee that all students will get a transfer; priority will be given to the lowest-performing students, including those with special needs, Sternberg said.
About 16,000 students, from 61 elementary, middle and high schools, will be eligible to transfer. This includes the 22 schools that may begin to phase out this year, and 39 others which have already begun the phaseout process.
For four weeks now yellow school buses have not been running and parents of special education students are fed up. They are asking Chancellor Dennis Walcott to intervene and work with Mayor Bloomberg to get the buses running again.
In a letter sent to the chancellor on Monday by the Citywide Council on Special Education -- a parent advisory board -- the CCSE said that what it finds most "appalling about this is that you and the Mayor believe that the DOE has no responsibility in the current bus strike negotiations."
For many students with special needs, transportation is a mandated service stipulated on a students IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Alternative modes of transportation, such as taxicabs and car services, are not working out for many families, the CCSE said.
One out of every four of the most severely disabled students in District 75 is missing school due to the lack of bus service, the letter says. That echoes testimony given at a City Council hearing last Friday by Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children and the ARISE Coalition. In an editorial in today's Daily News, Moroff writes that some 2,500 District 75 students are missing school every day.
"The city offered no plan for students who needed accessible transportation, no plan for children who needed an adult to accompany them to school and did not have a parent available, no plan for families with more than one child in different schools and no plan for families who could not afford to put out carfare twice a day and wait for reimbursement," Moroff writes.
Parents and administrators at Central Park East I and II say the Education Department undermined their efforts to grow into a middle school, giving away ideal "expansion space to a charter school just months after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said no space was available," DNAinfo reports.
Central Park East I and II are sister elementary schools that teach hands-on, progressive learning. For the last four years, one or the other has been asking the DOE for space to expand and have been given various reasons why the DOE would not grant them permission.
"Every year it's another excuse," former Central Park East 1 principal Julie Zuckerman told Insideschools this week at Castle Bridge, the progressive, dual language elementary school she founded in 2012 in Washington Heights.
Last year, the DOE told Zuckerman they would not allow an expansion because she was leaving to found Castle Bridge. This year, space is the issue, CPE I and II were told.
But the DOE is phasing out JHS 13, which shares the Jackie Robinson Education Complex with Central Park East 1 and Central Park East High School, opening up ideal space for the progressive elementary schools and high school to expand into middle school grades, parents say. Instead, in a surprise move, the DOE granted JHS 13's coveted space to East Harlem Scholars Academy I & II. East Harlem Scholars Academy I is already sharing the Jackie Robinson building and plans to move into its own building once it's constructed. It will use the extra space in the Jackie Robinson Complex to expand into a middle school: East Harlem Scholars Academy II, according to DNAinfo.
Zuckerman said Upper Manhattan is saturated with charter schools and is seriously lacking progressive school choices. "In Northern Manhattan, there's not a progressive middle school," she said.
CPE II mom Raven Snook said she and other parents are planning to rally in support of CPE I and II growing to include a middle school at the Wednesday, Feb. 27 hearing at the Jackie Robinson Complex about the proposed expansion of East Harlem Scholars Academy. (For more information, download their flyer.)
For more on the story see DNAinfo.