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Ask Judy
Thursday, 03 October 2013 14:18

Ask Judy: How do I build up my zoned school?

Judy,

I  am the parent of a child in pre-kindergarten and am newly elected to a PTA board in Brooklyn. Our zoned school is a lower performing and not highly sought after school in a district that is overcrowded because of what the other schools offer. I was hoping to work on improving parent involvement, increasing retention at the school and raising funds for enrichment programs at this school. Today we were told that because of decreased enrollment we are losing a teacher. For now I am focusing on the short term crisis of how to either gain 33 students or raise $125,000 in a few weeks. In the long run we need a parent coordinator (ours has been out since 1/2013), and ideas of how parents could work with the administration to make this a school where parents want to send their children. I would really appreciate any guidance on how to proceed!

Sincerely,
Pre-K parent

Dear Pre-K parent,

You have three tasks -- maybe a dozen, but three to start with. You need to build up the school's reputation among parents of young children. You need to raise money. And you need to engage the administration in forging a new perspective. As you noted, these are long term projects -- you won't see results right away but in their pursuit, you will build up a strong stakeholder constituency. In fact, a strong constituency engaging parents, teacher and administrators, as well as the wider community is key to any kind of school improvement effort. See also what I wrote about ways to attract students to a zoned school in a previous column

For more immediate results try posting a notice on neighborhood parent listservs to let parents know that seats are still available in your school. You can also post notices on supermarket bulletin boards and in local storefronts. I don't know if 33 kids will show up, but it's a start.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 24 September 2013 12:28

Wiggle-room for late birthday kids?

There's good news for parents who don't want to send their kids to kindergarten before their 5th birthday. The Department of Education is proposing a change in enrollment allowing for more flexibility in the placement of five and six year-olds. In the past, the DOE has been rigid in its rule that a child's birth year determine his grade placement.

The change to the city's enrollment regulation gives district superintendents the final say in deciding whether a child who turns six during the calendar year must enter 1st grade or whether kindergarten - or a different grade - is more appropriate. Parents will have to provide medical, or other documentation, making the case for placement in a different grade.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 19 September 2013 12:11

Parents to PEP: Vote no to online K admissions

Parents concerned about a new online kindergarten admissions system, announced by the Department of Education last week, are urging the Panel of Educational Policy (PEP) to vote no to funding the project at their meeting tonight, or to delay action until there has been time for public comment or the new mayor to take office.

"What is problematic here is they are centralizing kindergarten admissions and that’s a huge shift in policy," said Liz Rosenberg, a Brooklyn parent and founder of NYC Public, a parent advocacy group. "It was spun in a way that makes it sound like it’s simply bringing the process online. But, it’s moving from a school-based process where people walk into a school and talk to a real person to a process by which parents have to rank their schools online."

"It is a humongous policy shift and that’s not the way the press release reads," said Rosenberg.

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The other night my son chose one of my all-time favorite children’s books to read, “I Am Too Absolutely Small for School” by Lauren Child. The story follows a quirky little girl named Lola who, when informed by her brother Charlie that she will be starting school in the fall, comes up with many creative reasons why she needn’t go (among them that she does not need to learn to count to 100 because “I never eat more than ten cookies at one time”). Luckily, Charlie's counterarguments win over Lola in the end, and she finds that school is much more fun than she expected.

We’ve been reading the book quite a lot lately, and since both my boys are starting new schools this fall (Doodle heads to preschool, and Noodle to kindergarten) it’s no big surprise. Reading along as Lola successfully overcomes her fears is just one way for my kids to work through their own emotions about this big transition.

On my quest to find more good books about starting school, I had the pleasure of speaking to librarian Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist for BookOps, the shared technical services organization of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. Here are some of her top choices. Check out your local library to see if you can find them on the shelves.

Published in News and views
Monday, 12 August 2013 17:00

10 tips for your soon-to-be-kindergartner

(This post is adapted from an article which originally appeared on Full-Time Nanny.com: 10 Role Plays to do with Your Soon to be Kindergartener)

Kindergarten is an exciting time for kids and their parents, but it can also a be a bit scary. Your child will be in a brand new environment, likely surrounded by kids he doesn't know and under the care of a teacher he's unfamiliar with. The easiest and most effective way of helping him to become acclimated and comfortable with his new school is to help him prepare for common situations he's likely to encounter. Here are ten of the encounters you can role-play with your child before he starts kindergarten.

1. Asking for the Restroom –  Letting your child know how to ask to be escorted to the restroom and how to handle a bathroom emergency in advance allows him to be more confident when approaching his teacher, who is a virtual stranger, about such intimate needs.

2. Requesting Help – Your five-year-old may need help from tying his shoes to managing the clasps on a backpack. Feeling embarrassed about his difficulties or unsure of how to proceed when it comes to asking for help can lead your child to suffer in silence, so make sure that you role-play various situations in which he needs to ask the teacher for help.

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As many of my friends predicted, the decision of where to send Noodle for kindergarten has largely been made for me: After all the drama of G&T and charter school lotteries, we are right back where we started —  at our zoned elementary school, PS X. Despite all the research, school tours and panel discussions, not much has changed except my blood pressure. But even though I know that PS X is a good school—some would say very good—I can’t fight the feeling that something better is out there.

For me this something better is PS Y— a smaller, newer school that is out of zone, but ironically, one block closer to my apartment. Despite its good reputation, PS X has me a bit worried. In this large school, I worry that my high needs son may get lost in the shuffle. PS Y is half the size, and prides itself on special ed. Because PS Y is so new, they don’t yet have a waitlist of in-zone students, and when I called on a whim after my application was rejected in April, I was surprised to hear from the plucky parent coordinator that Noodle might have a shot at getting in.

Published in News and views
Monday, 17 June 2013 18:09

29 new dual language programs to open

The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.

Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO. 

Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish.  But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. PerryPS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well. 

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There were thousands of disappointed families when the city finally mailed offers to elementary Gifted and Talented programs on Friday. This year a record number of children - close to 5,500 -- qualified for the five more selective citywide programs, yet only about 300 offers were made, according to the Department of Education. That means there were slots in citywide schools available for only about five percent of eligible students.

Overall, the chances of snagging a seat in either a district or citywide G&T program were slim, especially in districts where there were high numbers of eligible students. Only 68.5 percent of eligible kindergartners got an offer. Since all G&T programs begin in kindergarten, the odds of getting a seat decrease each succeeding year. For 1st grade, 51 percent of applicants received an offer; in 2nd grade, 34 percent got an offer and in 3rd grade, only 29 percent. In total, just 54 percent of applicants in those grades were offered a seat, a significant decrease from the 72 percent offered a seat in 2012. After 3rd grade, placement in G&T programs is based on standardized state test scores.

Parents must accept their offers and register by June 28 (two days after the last day of school) or forfeit their seat.

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Dear Judy,

We plan to move to NYC from South America this summer. Can we still register our 5-year-old in kindergarten?

DT

Dear DT,

Yes, of course. New York City has a kindergarten place for every child who applies, as long as you can present proof of residence in NYC and of your child's age.  Most districts have zoned elementary schools. You may register at your zoned school once school opens in September. If you already know your address, call 311, or from outside New York, 212-new york to find your zoned school. You may also enter your address in the search box on the Department of Education's website  to find the zoned school for that address. There may be other school options but you are guaranteed a place in your zoned school or one that is nearby, in case the neighborhood school is overcrowded.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 15:52

Advocates say "no" to de-zoning D5 and D6

At a public forum Tuesday night in Washington Heights, Community Education Council 5 President Sonia Jones said her council plans to vote "no" on a resolution to de-zone when it meets on June 13th.

Jones said CEC 5 is submitting an anti-de-zoning resolution to clearly state its position on record: “Teachers, parents and principals are standing with CEC 5 against de-zoning,” Jones said while sitting on a panel at the Public Forum on Elementary School De-zoning, hosted by Councilperson Robert Jackson, head of the City Council's education committee.

Jones acknowledged that the idea of “choice” sounds appealing, but, she said, “you don’t get to choose what school your child really goes to, because there is someone in the office who decides where your child goes.” Jones advised District 6's Community Education Council, which is also considering a de-zoning proposal, to “slow down.”

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