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Wednesday, 01 February 2012 10:50

Insideschools event will be streaming live

Our Feb. 7 Insideschools event "Applying to Kindergarten" is fully booked. All RSVPs are now going on a waitlist. Everyone who is on the waitlist is welcome to come at 8 p.m. for a Q&A session. And, we'll be live-streaming the event on Insideschools.org. If you would like Insideschools to host more workshops, please tell our co-sponsor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  You may email her office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Clara Hemphill, along with the Insideschools staff members and other school experts, will offer guidance about what to look for in an elementary school, how and when to register, and how to explore your options if you're not happy with the schools in your neighborhood.

We'll cover gifted and talented programs, magnet schools, unzoned schools, special education and options for children learning to speak English.

Panelists will include Sonya hooks, senior director of the Education Department's charter school office, Robin Aronow of School Search NYC, Randi Levine, staff attorney at Advocates for Children, and Lainie Leber of the DOE's magnet program office.

A Q&A session will follow the presentation at 8 p.m.

The event is co-sponsored by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

You can post your questions in comments below.

(Updated 2/6/12)

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 20:09

Manhattan schools that (might) have room

We’ve heard a lot of scary stories about kindergarten waitlists at very popular schools, but what about good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed? Insideschools has compiled a list of Manhattan schools that accept children from outside their immediate neighborhoods. We’ll be posting similar lists for other boroughs soon.

For this list, we have concentrated on schools that don’t require a "gifted and talented" exam. All a parent has to do is apply between now and March 2--and hope there are seats available. Call the schools directly for details. These schools fall in a couple of categories:

--Magnet programs. These schools receive federal money to develop a theme, such as science or technology. They give first preference to children who live in their attendance zone, but usually have room for children from across a district. Some also have room for children outside the district.

--Dual language programs. These programs are designed to make children fluent readers and writers of English and another language: Spanish, French or Chinese. Instruction alternates between the two languages. Typically, half the children speak English at home and half speak the other language. Zoned children get preference, but others may apply.

--Unzoned schools. These schools accept children from a particular district. A few accept children from all five boroughs.

--Good neighborhood schools. Children who are zoned for the school get preference, but sometimes there are extra seats, even though you may not find out until August.

--Charter schools. These accept children by lottery. (You have until April to apply.)

Lower East Side

In District 1 on the Lower East Side, there are no zoned neighborhood schools. Everybody has to make a choice. Preference goes to children who live in the district, but there are sometimes spots for out-of-district children, including Brooklynites.

Long-time favorites are The Neighborhood School, The Earth School, and PS 184—which will most likely fill up with District 1 kids this year. (Note: out-of-district families who are willing to wait until August may snag a seat). Out-of-district children may have a better chance at the Children’s Workshop School and East Village Community School. Also consider PS 20, which has a nice dual language program in English and Mandarin. PS 63 is gaining in popularity. The Girls Preparatory Charter School offers a single-sex option.

Downtown, the Village and Midtown

Forget PS 234 or PS 41 if you live out of zone. Those popular schools have long wait-lists even for their zoned kids. There are some other options, however. PS 150 and Midtown West are sought-after unzoned schools for District 2. PS 33 and PS 11 are zoned schools that may have room for other kids who live in District 2. A new school, Peck Slip or PS 343, will be opening in the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse. See the District 2 CEC website for details. New schools often have space for out-of-zone kids in their first year.

Upper East Side

The good news: the Upper East Side will have some new buildings, easing overcrowding. PS 267 and PS 59 are moving into new buildings in the fall, and  PS 267 may have room for out-of-zone kids. A third school, PS 527, will open in the former parochial school, Our Lady of Good Council, at 323 East 91st Street. It, too, may have space for out-of-zone students. See the District 2 CEC website for details.

Ella Baker is a progressive K-8 school that has long accepted children from all five boroughs.

Upper West Side

PS 199 won’t have room for out-of-zone kindergartners, but other District 3 schools may. Consider English-Spanish dual language programs at PS 84, PS 87, PS 163 and PS 75. In addition, PS 84 has a French-English dual language program. These schools mostly limit admission to District 3 students, but French-speakers from out of district may be eligible for PS 84.

Manhattan School for Children accepts children from across District 3.

PS 145, which has a federal magnet grant, has room for out-of-zone children, as does PS 165.

As for charter schools, people seem to either love or hate the Harlem Success Academy Charter School and its sister school Upper West Success Academy. Both give preference to District 3 residents.

East Harlem

The birthplace of school choice, District 4 in East Harlem has welcomed out-of-zone and out-of-district children for decades. Central Park East I, Central Park East II and River East are small progressive schools. The Bilingual Bilcultural School, PS 57 and PS 171 are also popular choices, but they give preference to kids who live in the zone.

Central Harlem

Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, Harlem Success Academy 2 , and Harlem Success Academy 5 are good unzoned options in District 5.

Upper Manhattan

District 6 offers a number of choices for parents who want to look beyond their neighborhood school, including Muscota New School, Amistad Dual Language School, Hamilton Heights School, Washington Heights Academy and PS 178, The Professor Juan Bosch School.

For more on these and other tips on how to apply to elementary school, attend the Insideschools workshop in Manhattan on Feb. 7.

Published in News and views

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.

Published in News and views
Monday, 30 January 2012 15:29

New! DOE posts elementary school directory

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.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 20:00

Schools must admit gifted special ed kids

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.

Published in News and views
Monday, 16 January 2012 15:00

Some schools block parent visits

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

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 03 January 2012 14:25

New steps to (maybe) ease crowding

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.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 29 November 2011 12:37

Get ready to apply to kindergarten

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.

Published in News and views
Friday, 18 November 2011 14:05

DOE warns of possible yellow bus strike

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.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 27 October 2011 14:26

Poll: How to boost parent involvement?

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.

Published in News and views