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For some parents, applying to kindergarten has become a second job.
They are zoned for schools that are failing, overcrowded or unsafe. They make phone calls, search websites and seek advice in hurried conversations at pre-school pick-up or on playgrounds to find out what schools are good and have space for out-of-zone kids. They make appointments to go on an overwhelming number of school tours and arrive at work late. They traverse the district, the borough and sometimes the city trying to find a good school that has available seats.
Dao Tran sends her daughter to the pre-kindergarten program she is zoned for at PS 49 in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, where one-third of the children are reading at grade level. But she hopes she will not have to return next year. "The school depresses me," she said.
In the midst of the kindergarten application season, the Department of Education has posted its first-ever directory of all public elementary schools in the city. The listing indicates which are zoned schools, which are unzoned, and which have gifted and talented, dual language or magnet programs.
The 80-page 2012-2013 directory [PDF] should be an especially helpful tool for parents of five-year-olds seeking alternatives to their neighborhood schools. It explains the kindergarten application process, defines the priorities for admission to each program, and how the waitlist works for schools with more applicants than available space. All parents of incoming kindergartners may apply individually to as many schools as they wish -- but the best odds of admission to a school you aren't zoned for is at a school with special programs.
Parents of kids with lopsided abilities despair of finding the right educational fit: for the math whiz who has dyslexia; the child with a photographic memory who can’t sit still; the ace test-taker who struggles to get along with her peers. These kids are Twice Exceptional, often abbreviated as 2e. They’re super smart, but profoundly challenged. Most have Individualed Education Programs (IEP), specifying special education services. They just don’t fit into the public school system.
Now the Education Department is telling schools they must admit and meet the needs of these students within the context of their school as part of the special education reform rolled out last year. On January 13, Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a letter to principals saying: “choice, non-zoned and screened schools will be asked to admit and serve a percentage of students with disabilities equivalent to the percentage of students with disabilities in their district or borough.” said Lauren Katzman, director of special education at the DOE. “There have been targets [enrollment numbers] all along. The change is we’re saying you have to meet your targets.”
On January 19, dozens of parents turned out for a meeting hosted by the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) featuring a panel of educators and Education Department officials including Katzman. They were not surprised to learn that there are no programs designed specifically for 2e kids, moreover the Department of Education does not have “clean data” showing how many 2e’s there are in the system: “Gifted and Talented is not tracked by disability yet but the number is extremely low,” said Katzman.
Mayor Bloomberg recommends that you visit a school before enrolling in kindergarten. So why won't some schools let parents in?
"We recommend that you call schools of interest to schedule a time for a visit," states the kindergarten admissions page of the city's Elementary School Directory. Good idea. The best way to get the feel of a school you are considering enrolling your child in is to take a tour, see the facilities and peek into the classrooms.
But what if the schools you wanted to visit were very reluctant to open their doors to prospective parents, allowed only zoned parents to visit, or refused to offer tours outright? Unthinkable? Not if you happen to live in Districts 20, 21 and others in Brooklyn.
While doing research for a presentation for prospective parents of kindergarten children, I found myself calling up District Community Education Councils as well as a dozen or so schools, searching for information on the availability of school tours. While CEC personnel in Districts 20 and 21 sought to be helpful, they drew a blank when it came to the subject of elementary school tours. They seemed surprised by the question. The only answer they could give me was to contact each school.
Contacting the schools took much patience and several phone calls before I was able to get a firm answer. My results: Most of the schools that were willing to give parents tours made it clear that they gave tours only to parents whose kids were zoned for the school. Some of the schools I called gave no tours at all, leaving parents to make an "informed" choice without much real information to base it on.
If Education Department officials really want there to be "school choice," how about letting parents see a school before we send our kids there? What do you say, Education Mayor?
The Haves and Have Nots of Elementary School Tours
Tours are offered at:
• P.S. 682 The Academy of Talented Scholars Dist.20
• P.S. 686 Brooklyn School of Inquiry (citywide G&T) Dist.20
• P.S. 177 The Marlboro Dist.21
• P.S. 97 The Highlawn Dist. 21
• P.S. 101 The Verrazano Dist.21
• P.S. 212 Lady Deborah Moody Dist.21
• P.S. 215- Morris H. Weiss School Dist. 21
Tours are not offered at:
• P.S. 247 Dist. 20
• P.S./I.S. 229 Dyker Dist. 20
• P.S. 186 Dr. Irving A. Gladstone Dist.20
• P.S.128 Bensonhurst Dist.21
• P.S. 315 Midwood Dist. 22
• P.S. 235 Lenox, Dist. 18
The Education Department is taking some steps to address the city's annual pile of nightmare stories about kindergarten enrollment. But the underlying issue of too many kids for the number of seats in some neighborhoods will persist.
First up, the DOE may close "non-mandatory" programs at schools that cannot find spots for all of their zoned students. "It is the primary obligation of zoned schools to serve zoned students," the proposed wording reads. While no specifics are offered, it is likely that gifted and talented programs and dual language programs may disappear from some packed schools. This year PS 153 in Maspeth, Queens, which had close to 30 kids on its kindergarten waitlist last March, is no longer accepting kindergarteners into its G and T program.
September is a long way away, but if your child turns five in 2012 it's about time to apply to elementary school. Applications are available at each school Jan. 9 and are due March 2. You must submit an application, even if you are applying to your zoned school.
According to the timeline on the Department of Education's website, children will receive their assignments the week of March 19 - 23. Exceptions: students eligible for Gifted & Talented programs will get their assignments in May, and those applying to charter schools will find out if they have won a seat after lotteries are held in April.
There are priorities for admission, with highest going to siblings of kids already attending, and lowest to kids from outside the district, with no siblings in attendance. The majority of kindergartners do attend their neighborhood schools but because of over-crowding in some neighborhoods there is no guarantee of admission to your zoned school. If there are more applicants than spaces available, a lottery is held. If you are not given a space in your zoned school, you are assured of a space in another district school and your child may receive busing. Space permitting, you can return to the zoned school in 1st grade or later.
Children with special needs also go through the general application process, with the anticipation that most schools should be able to offer needed special education services. The DOE is hosting a series of kindergarten orientation meetings for families of kids with disabilities, beginning on Nov. 29 and running through mid-December. Some sessions will be conducted in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Chinese, and Bengali. See the schedule here. Children eligible for District 75 programs serving kids with severe disabilities in a highly specialized environment will receive a placement right after their IEP meetings in the spring.
School bus drivers may go on strike as early as Monday morning, leaving yellow bus riders to find an alternate way to get to school, the city warned parents today.
The threatened system-wide strike by Local 1181 bus drivers stems from the Education Department's bid for a new contract for buses which transport special needs pre-school students to school. The current contract expires in June 2012 and the union is asking for job protection for its workers in the event that their current employers don't get the bid.
The city considers the strike illegal and is seeking a federal court injunction against it.
Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott presented a five-point plan to increase parent engagement on Wednesday night, proposing the creation of "parent academies" in every borough, and the introduction of a system to rate schools' parent involvement efforts. High school Progress Reports released earlier this week showed that many graduates are not prepared to do college-level work. Walcott said on Wednesday that schools alone cannot boost college-readiness and the effort must involve students and families as well.
He delivered his agenda to an invitation-only audience of parents, Tweed officials and school staff with Jesse Mojica, the DOE's director of Family and Community Engagement, at his side. The chancellor, the grandparent of a public school student, promised to improve communication between the DOE and parents and presented a new online hub to distribute information to parents: http://schools.nyc.gov/parentsfamilies.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr will join education historian Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera and other education policy heavy-hitters at the first-ever Bronx Education Summit, Saturday, Oct. 15 at Lehman College.
Dr. Ravitch will deliver the keynote speech, "Improving Education for the Children of the Bronx," in the morning, followed by break-out sessions for parents and teachers on topics including early childhood, special education and English language learning. Our own education experts Jacqueline Wayans, Insideschools assignment editor, and Kim Nauer, education project director at our parent organization the Center for New York City Affairs, will participate in a panel discussion about parent involvement from 10:45 to 11:45 a.m. In the afternoon, a panel of local education policy experts will discuss education in the Bronx, "from cradle to career."
A full schedule is available on the Bronx Borough President's website, though unfortunately, at this time, it appears that registration is closed. For those looking for advice from Jacqueline Wayans, it's not too late to register for her Oct. 25 workshop at City College, "Choosing the Right School for Your Child."
Sex education classes will start in the spring semester at all of the city's public middle and high schools. When the initiative was announced in August, a poll of Insideschools readers showed that more than 40% of you thought these classes were long overdue, and another 16% thought that schools were already mandated to teach sex ed.
Today Gotham Gazette published an in-depth report, Sex Education in the City, which details the prevalence among city teens of sexually-transmitted diseases and quotes teachers and public health advocates who believe the mandated classes are not comprehensive enough.
All that is required under the plan is that schools offer "sex education lessons during one semester in both middle and high school," reports Gotham Schools, and parents can opt their children out of the classes.
Read also about the history of sex education in NYC schools, and about the mandated HIV/AIDS curriculum in the full report.