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Ask Judy
Sunday, 08 January 2012 18:05

Elementary Dad: Field trip realities

Dear Parent,

Thank you for agreeing to chaperone our upcoming field trip. It's safe to assume you are a first-time volunteer, since all parents who chaperoned previous field trips have informed us (sometimes via their attorneys) that they will never do so again. Therefore, you ought to know some basics.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 05 January 2012 16:17

Ask Judy: Starting a dual language program

Dear Judy,

How does the DOE decide to start a dual language program? Are they proposed by interested parents?

ELL Mom.

Dear ELL Mom,

Parents do have a big role in establishing dual language programs: the Department of Education is obligated to start one if at least 12 parents of English language learners who speak the same home language request one.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 11:42

Principal's Perspective: Parents do your part

I got a letter the other day from a parent whose daughter had missed more than 30 days of school. “Please excuse my child for these absences because of asthma, colds and the weather,” the note said.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 03 January 2012 17:28

Poll: Many schools skimp on art, does yours?

Close to half of city elementary schools do not meet state standards for arts instruction, even as the number of certified arts teachers in the schools has grown, according to the 2010-11 fifth annual Arts in the Schools Report released just before the holidays.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 15 December 2011 18:01

Parents still don't feel 'engaged'

Parents are skeptical that parent involvement will improve with the reorganized Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE), headed by Bronx parent Jesse Mojica. It's the third time that the office has been reorganized since 2007.

At a packed City Council hearing Thursday morning, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mojica fielded complaints and suggestions to improve parent involvement from council members, union representatives and parents.

"What will you do to give parents real power?" Brooklyn Council Member Charles Barron asked Walcott and Mojica, getting to the heart of most concerns raised at the hearing.

Walcott said he wants to work with the council more, and echoed points he made in a speech in October, when he promised to improve parent engagement. When asked how much influence parent committees have in DOE decisions, like school closing, Walcott responded, "the Community Education Councils do have a powerful role shaping what takes place in their particular district."

Lynn Sanchez, a representative for Community Education Council 4 in East Harlem, disagreed, saying CEC meetings are one-sided. "It's just space to sit and talk and talk and hear the DOE give fabulous presentations that are meaningless. They present to us and we ask questions that get no response."

Other concerns included recent parent coordinator lay-offs, the planned Parent Academy, and questions about  how the new structure will better support parent coordinators and engage parents.

Walcott left the meeting after council members finished asking questions, but Mojica stayed to listen to parents give their testimony. A parent told us she asked Walcott why he was leaving before parents’ had their turn at the mike. She said Walcott told her: "I have a $24 billion company to run."

We live-tweeted the first two hours of the hearing. Check out the feed on our twitter page @insideschools.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 19:58

Walcott okays roll-out of special ed reform

For the past year and a half, a group of schools has been experimenting with ways to educate special education students more flexibly and in more inclusive classrooms. Now, Chancellor Dennis Walcott says the experiment, piloted in 265 schools, will be be rolled out to all schools in the 2012-2013 school year, according to a letter to principals last week. 

The reform in special education is aimed at educating special needs children in the least restrictive settings possible, and, preferably, in their neighborhood schools, especially in elementary school. This might mean moving children from self-contained classes for special ed kids to larger classes that include general education students and have two teachers. Or it might mean grouping smaller numbers of students with similar disabilities into the same classrooms and providing extra help according to their needs.

Early data shows that fewer students have been recommended for more restrictive settings in "Phase I" schools than in those that have not yet adopted the reform, Walcott said. There has been a 16.6 percent decrease in recommendations of students to more restrictive environments in the Phase 1 schools, compared to a 3.9 percent decrease in other schools.

Published in News and views
Monday, 05 December 2011 09:52

Elementary Dad: What to give the teacher?

December holidays always pose a dilemma: What gift can I get my child’s teacher that says “I appreciate everything you do” and “I get on my knees each day and thank God I don’t have your job”? We’ve found a few gifts that teachers will love — or at least will generate an understanding chuckle.

These gifts are also priced within the Department of Education guidelines covering teacher conflict of interest. Deep within the DOE’s fine print, it says parents should be asked to contribute no more than $5 each for mid-year gifts, and that presents should come from the entire class rather than from individuals. (Thank you, Chancellor Scrooge.)

Consider these ideas a starting point. Feel free to suggest other gifts in the Comments below.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 22 November 2011 12:15

Ask Judy: Is Saturday detention allowed?

Dear Judy,

My middle school son tapped on the shoulder of a girl sitting in front of him, but she thought it was someone else and pushed that kid. The teacher sentenced all of them to detention. I think my son was unfairly punished, but what bothers me most is that the detention is on Saturday. Is it legal to hold Saturday detention? And if so, will there be lunch?

Upset

Dear Upset,

Your question convinces me that the school is failing in its obligation to communicate with parents.

If you look at the Department of Education’s Discipline Code, you will find that in school detention is listed as one of the possible disciplinary responses allowed, depending on the grade and infraction. In middle school, it is definitely sanctioned for disturbing the classroom peace and according to Marge Feinberg, spokesperson for the Department of Education, "Arranging detentions is up to principals."

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 22 November 2011 16:08

Time to rank your high school application

For 8th graders and their families who are logging hours pouring over the high school directory, reading Insideschools profiles and comments, watching our videos on how to apply to high school, and trekking all over the city for open houses and tours, decision time is here. High school applications are due on Dec. 2.

Here’s our advice about how to fill out the application.

Published in News and views
Sunday, 20 November 2011 12:00

Elementary Dad: Thankless job? Sign me up

There are worse jobs than being editor of a school’s parents association newsletter — bathroom attendant in the dysentery ward the morning after Taco Night, perhaps — but some idiot always volunteers. Meet that idiot.

Not that I’m complaining. OK, I’m totally complaining, but it’s been a rough week.

Some background: My daughter’s Upper West Side elementary school has one of those turbo-charged parents associations that raises and spends more money than the governments of some developing nations. The PA’s newsletter isn’t a mimeographed handout sent home occasionally to remind parents about the bake sale. It’s a carefully designed, professionally printed two-page tip sheet that goes home every week with every kid and reminds parents about the bake sale. (Despite the hoopla about banning brownies a few years back, bake sales continue to be a time-honored fund-raising tool.)

Published in News and views