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Monday, 09 July 2012 16:00

Council launches LGBT book drive

The City Council and Department of Education have launched a five-borough book drive for schools to heighten awareness and understanding in students about LGBT (lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender) issues.

A message from Christine Quinn's office says: "Access to these books can help prevent bullying, depression and other negative outcomes in students, many of whom come from non-traditional families and/or may be confused about their own thoughts and feelings. It can also help children develop empathy by increasing their understanding about how people around the world are both similar to and different from themselves."

A Chancellor's Regulation, updated in 2011, addresses the issue of bullying but some groups are concerned that the regulation doesn't go far enough as incidents of bullying continue.

Here's a list of requested books that may help spread the word:

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No graduation ceremony was held when my daughter’s class finished 1st grade, so I was not invited to give the commencement address. But if I had been the featured speaker, I would have said something like this:

Thank you, Chancellor Walcott, for that kind introduction. Parents, principals, teachers, classmates, janitors, Mayor Bloomberg, thank you all for coming today. Most of all, to you graduating 1st-graders: Congratulations! Job well done! Most of you probably recognize me, because I’m the father of — yes, that’s right! But let’s not shout. Always raise your hands, because — OK, that was a mistake, because now all of your hands are up. Instead, let’s put on our listening ears, sit down, and let me say something really important.

The completion of 1st grade is truly a historic moment in your academic career. When you look back, you’ll realize that kindergarten, which seemed seriously important only last year, was just a warm-up for the grade you just completed. In kindergarten, teachers had to reinforce basic ideas such as “Share” and “Take turns” and “No ankle biting” and “Don’t laugh when another kid burps loudly in class.” First grade marked the start of REAL education — as I’m sure you realize, because you faced homework every weeknight. You learned to read and write. You learned basic addition. And you learned that, if a kid actually does burp loudly in class, it is OK to think it is funny so long as you don’t actually laugh out loud. These lessons will serve you well in the future.

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Tuesday, 26 June 2012 10:51

Free summer meals beginning on June 28

All children, ages 18 and under, may receive free breakfast and lunch at many schools, parks and pools beginning on June 28, the day after schools close for summer vacation.

Breakfast will be served from 8 to 9:15 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Children participating in the Learn to Swim program at city pools will get breakfast at the pool. Check the city's Department of Parks and Recreation website for a borough by borough list of all available parks and pool sites. You can also call 311 or text “NYCMeals” to 877-877. A list of sites, including public schools, is also on the Department of Education website.

Famiilies do not need to show any documents or identification to receive a free meal. Meals are also offered to any person who participates in a special education program.

The free meals are provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through SchoolFood, a part of the New York City Department of Education, from June 28 through Aug. 31.

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Nothing dulls the luster of my club's reading room quite like a spot of bad news. So it was no surprise that, upon spying the recent Times article about “The $1 million PTA,” and seeing my youngling’s venerable institution mentioned prominently, I spat out the afternoon’s gin & tonic and summoned my manservant.

“Jeeves!” I bellowed, and in an instant that reliable fellow was at my elbow. “Remind me how one obtains a retraction from New York newspaper czars. Do I post a letter, or is it mandatory to storm the editorial offices, smoke oozing from my nostrils? Have you read this inflammatory bit of yellow journalism?”

“Indeed I have, sir,” Jeeves replied. “The piece was rather informative regarding the large sums some parents raise for their children's schools. I am sorry to learn it distressed you.”

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012 10:26

Ask Judy: I'm moving to NYC

Dear Judy,

My husband and I will be moving to Manhattan sometime this fall or winter (probably just after Christmas). Our oldest child will start kindergarten this fall. However, he was born in August 2006, so he will be six. The cutoff where we live is September 1 but they allow holding back if parents choose to do it. Can he continue in kindergarten, or will the Department of Education be inflexible and require that as a six year old he has to go to first grade? Also, what choices do we have as new arrivals in the middle of the school year?


Dear Out-of-towner,

For New York City kids, there is a rather inflexible rule: You must enter kindergarten in the year you turn five and you must enter first grade in the year you turn six. However, when out-of-towners show up their kids are placed in the last grade in which they were registered. You have to submit school records to verify the grade – but then you need those records as part of your registration.

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I'll be one of the speakers at a workshop at New York University, Tuesday, June 5, from 12 to 1:30 p.m. to help parents figure out their elementary school options. The event at the Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Room, 803, is designed for NYU staff, but others may come as well. Maggie Moroff from Advocates for Children will talk about special education and Terri Decker of Smart City Kids will talk about gifted programs.

The workshop is free, but you must register: Call 212-998-9085 for more information

We'll give you information about how to register your child, how to apply to schools outside your zone, and what you should look for on school visits. There will be time for questions and answers as well.

Can't come? Look at our pages on how to apply to elementary school and our YouTube video on what to look for in an elementary school.


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Tom Allon may be a long shot in his quest to be the next mayor,  but he has some fresh ideas about how to fix the city's schools. The publisher of Manhattan Media kicked off his campaign Wednesday with a speech at The New School that suggests a simple way to improve public schools: Help teachers perfect their craft.

He proposes that teachers get training that's more like what medical students get. Instead of working as a student teacher for just three or four months--as is now the case--teachers-in-training should have three years of "clinical practice...three years of student teaching with skilled mentor teachers in the classroom as their guides," he said, quoting from a 2010 report commissioned by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.

"Teachers need ongoing, constant professional training to help them overcome what they never received in a School of Education," said Alllon, who is both a public school parent and a former teacher. He points to the New American Academy, a Broookln school where teachers work in teams of four, headed by a master teacher. The teams meet for 90 minutes at the beginning of each day to plan lessons and learn from one another (while the kids are eating breakfast or exercising in the gym). The school is led not by a principal or a CEO, but by a headmaster, the head of the master teachers.

The mayoral race is bound to be filled with debates over charter schools, school closings, teacher evaluations, and new and better ways to test our children. But it's nice that the first salvo is a call for something we can all agree on: better teachers make better schools.


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The New York Times recently ran the second piece in a series called A System Divided. The series aims to "...examine the changing racial distribution of students in New York City's public schools and its impact on their opportunities and achievements." The article, "Why Don't We Have Any White Kids?" is a great piece that among other things informs the reader that integration has been shown to have positive effects on young children. From my own personal experience, I believe that is true.

I grew up in a West Texas town with a large Mexican population. In 1977, when I was set to enter second grade, the state began a program of integration of public schools, and in this case it took the form of forced busing. In my neighborhood most of us walked to school, and I vividly recall the first day when a dusty yellow school bus pulled up and let out a group of children who quietly followed the principal into the cafeteria. After school, when my mother came home from work, the first thing I said to her was "Mommy today all the Mexicans came to school." My mother looked at me and replied, "What do you think you are?" Without speaking to the family pathology behind that exchange (it's a long story) what I can say is that I was raised in a home where Spanish was not spoken and race was rarely mentioned. My seven-year-old self received a good little shock. My curiosity about the group of children who came on the bus grew.

I ended up becoming friends with a few of the children, and I still remember them well. I went to their homes, homes where no English was spoken. I ate their food and played with them and through them and their families I found my Mexican heritage. I still remember their names: Ana, who had five older sisters. I loved to watch them brushing or fixing each other's hair or arguing with their grandmother about staying out late; Benny, a shy slight child whose father dropped him off in a beat up red Chevy pick truck. Once, there were chickens in the back, and Benny dragged us over to see them. Those moments stayed with me all these years.

In childhood identity can be a mutable thing. Through play, children take on and off roles in ways adults can't or won't. How do you instill acceptance of differences and pride of self? Get them while they're young. By not acknowledging a Mexican identity, my parents did me a disservice. Thanks to integration I cobbled together a greater sense of myself.

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New York’s Department of Education recently announced 24 city schools were given new names. About the same time, 5th-graders learned which middle school they were selected to attend. Combined, the two events might result in letters from DOE like this:

Dear scholar (formerly known as “student”),

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Albert Einstein Academy of Integrated Sciences in the Rosa Parks Campus, formerly known as Middle School 525. The ivy-covered walls of AEAISRPC eagerly await you, and we feel sure that your class will set high standards for the five or six future classes who will attend this school before its name gets changed again.

Please note that the Albert Einstein Academy is merely one of several institutes of learning (formerly known as “schools”) at the Rosa Parks Campus (formerly known as George Wallace High School for Accounting and Carpentry, and before that as Washington High). Also sharing the building will be:

- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Academy of Dramatic Arts (formerly Laurel & Hardy High)

- Fashion School of the Bronx (formerly known as Bronx Fashion School, and briefly known as the J-Lo School for Showing You Got It Girl Fashion Academy before the department invalidated the student-run name-selection contest)

- Middle School 32 (formerly MS 23, but the stone carver was dyslexic)

To avoid confusion and metal detectors, we request that you and other Albert Einstein Academy students enter the building through the Relativity Gate (formerly known as “that door near the gym”) and follow Princeton Hall (formerly “the hall”) to your homeroom (formerly a closet).

We hope you are as excited about attending Albert Einstein Academy as we are about the prospect of providing a high-quality educational experience that integrates the new Common Core Standards within a cohesive metric designed for optimal success (formerly known as “teaching to the test”). We believe students in this pioneering middle school will leave 8th grade fully prepared for success at some of the city’s top high schools, including Global Scholars Academy at Flushing, the College and Careers Exploratory Institute at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Campus, and the Academy of Humanities and Applied Science at Shoreline High School in the Ephraim Zimbalist Jr. Campus at Greenpoint West.

We can’t wait to see you this September. So study hard and keep learning right up until the last day of school on June 22 (formerly June 27).

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With the permission of the chancellor, many New York City schools are hastily scheduling no classes on June 25 and 26, two of the final three days of the school year, choosing to convert unused “snow days” into two days of professional development for teachers.

For the schools that choose this option, the last day of school will effectively be Friday, June 22, and not Wednesday, June 27, as originally scheduled. All New York City public schools will be in session on June 27, but educators expect a large majority of parents will not send children to school for that final half-day in the middle of the week.

No school on June 25 and 26 is good news for parents and kids eager for an early start to summer vacation. But it is an unwelcome surprise for working parents whose summer plans don’t begin until June 28, and who must now arrange child care during what they had assumed would be two full school days.

Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a surprise memo giving all schools the option to use June 25 and 26 for professional development. Extra days added in case of severe weather had gone unused during the mild winter.

Many schools hastily opted for professional development after conducting a vote among teachers. Some schools also are asking parents to vote on the matter, although such votes typically are arranged with little notice. "It's really up to the principals to decide," said Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, adding she didn't know how many schools had decided to cancel classes.

At one Manhattan elementary school, PS 87 on the Upper West Side, a majority of parents attending the Parents Association’s May meeting reluctantly voted Thursday to endorse no school June 25 and 26. The vote came after several parents complained about what they said was a lack of respect for working parents’ time and plans.

PS 87 parents learned about the matter Wednesday afternoon, hours after the school’s teachers voted to approve taking professional development on those two days. Teachers will use the time to review the state’s new Common Core Standards, which will force curriculum changes at most NYC schools.

PS 87 Principal Monica Berry told parents that report cards would be sent home with kids June 22. “We treat that Friday as the last day anyway,” Berry told parents. Berry noted many summer camps open the following Monday, and school attendance is typically low during the final few days of any school year.

Students who do not attend school on June 27 will be counted absent in official records. That could be a factor in some students’ applications to middle school or high school, as elite schools often consider attendance as a factor in admissions.

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