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Ask Judy
Judy Baum

Judy Baum

Ask Insideschools a Question

Judy Baum, Insideschools' longtime advice columnist, passed away on Dec. 20, 2013. Her columns are archived here, under Ask Judy. Insideschools will continue to answer readers' school-related questions. Email us at info@insideschools.org.

By Judy Baum

Dear Judy

I am at sea. We just realized that finances will not allow my daughter to continue at the  private school where she is  finishing 8th grade. What can we do find a public high school at this late date?.

Distressed

Dear Distressed,

You are entering the great New York City high school hunt at a most frustrating time for all, not just newcomers but kids with no previous matches and those who are disappointed in their assignment.  Parents and students in this group have spent weeks revisiting schools, either hoping for a place in a school that previously overlooked them, finding a new possibility among some they did not consider before, or investigating one of the schools slated to start in September. Now the “supplementary round” application has been submitted and the results will not be known until the end of May.  Appeals must be filed by June 3.

As a brand new entrant, you have to be a bit patient but you don’t have to wait forever; enrollment offices are open year round and, in fact, according to the director of high school enrollment, Leonard Trerotola, you can still submit an application by FAX to 212-374-5568 . You can also visit the student enrollment office nearest you to put your application in motion. The sooner the better but first do some research.

"Most high schools are not in the recruitment phase, but it often is helpful to call the Parent Coordinator for information about the school," suggests Rob Sanft, director of the enrollment office at the Department of Education. He said that you don't have to wait to apply until August, when special enrollment offices open.

A good strategy is to narrow the search geographically, choose the neighborhoods and boroughs that are within reasonable distance and access to transit.  You can do an advanced search on Insideschools to find schools in your preferred area and read what our reviewers say about them.  Be sure to find out the admission requirements for each school – don’t reach unrealistically for schools that are super-popular or whose criteria your child doesn’t meet. Each school has a page in the high school directory that lists requirements for admission as well as details about Advanced Placement courses, sports, and the school's graduation rate. Take a look also at the directory of new schools opening in September and read our round-up on the schools that still had openings when placements were announced.

There are several documents you need to enroll, including your child’s transcript.  Often private schools delay or even refuse to send transcripts, so make that request right away.

There is no guarantee that you will matched to one of the schools you choose. If you are given a placement that is unacceptable to you, submit an appeal before June 3.

And, there is a school of thought that says you might be better off waiting to apply until late August, along with newcomers to the city and others who don't yet have a placement. Spaces may open up over the summer. We'd like to hear from other parents who may have had a similar experience so please chime in to share your thoughts.

Good luck in the hunt.

Judy

Dear Judy,

If I am waitlisted  at my zoned school for kindergarten, does that mean I am guaranteed to get a seat in 1st grade? That’s what my zoned school told me.

Hopeful

Dear Hopeful.

Zoned schools are supposed to take all of the kids in their zone for 1st grade and above. BUT that has not always the case in crowded districts. According to the enrollment office, you must “express your interest” for 1st grade and if the school has room you will get an offer based on the order of this year’s waitlist.

All students who are still waitlisted for kindergarten will receive an alternate kindergarten offer in late May, at a school as close to their zoned school as possible, according to DOE officials. You may continue to stay on the waitlist even into the fall. And it will still count for 1st grade.

In order to accommodate as many children as possible, schools are being asked to take a full complement  of 25 students per kindergarten class. And they are being asked to stop taking out of zone kids until all waitlisted students in the district are accommodated. At recent meetings with kindergarten families in districts 15 and 2, enrollment office officials stressed that there has already been "significant movement" on the waitlists.

Of course current kindergarten waiting lists include some kids who will opt for the gifted and talented spots – but you won’t know in a timely way whether your child will get one of those open places.  Results of the G&T assessments will be out sometime in May with applications due back in late May. The DOE says that the late notification for G&T offers is a matter of its “vendor” having to handle a high volume of tests and test-takers.

There are other ways that waiting lists shrink -- families move,  parents opt for a private or charter school, or get an offer off another waiting list.

Please note that you are guaranteed a spot in a kindergarten class even if it’s not in your zoned school.

Meanwhile, cheer up, think of this ordeal as practice for the next level of school choice and as a wake up call for your active participation in school district affairs. Get the parents association and the  Community Education Council to make overcrowding  a priority.  Maybe a solution will emerge by the time 1st grade rolls around

Good luck

Judy

What is two inches thick and heavy as an old telephone book, covers  the whole city and is essential to 7th, 8th,  and 9th graders?  It is the perennial summer reading favorite, the Directory of the New York City Public High Schools.  Unlike perennial flowers, this book shows up in a different guise every year and this year you can influence its costume .

At the DOE website you can vote for one of 13 covers, each one designed by a city high school student.   In fact, you can vote for one entry per day from now through Friday, April 8.  Imagine if a million plus city students and their parents voted each day. Do your part to support the city's student artists.  You might even get your first choice.

Dear Judy,

I have several questions related to choosing a school for our daughter (who is currently 16 months old). We are planning to move to Manhattan in time for her to start school, so I am trying to understand our school options and make real estate decisions accordingly. I was wondering:
How necessary is nursery school (we would like her to attend public schools and try out for G&T later)?
How do I compile a comparative list of Manhattan public schools (by test scores, etc.) to come up with a shortlist?
What happens if she cannot get into the zoned pre-K? Would she still be able to attend kindergarten at the zoned school?

MM

Dear MM,

Planning ahead is usually wise, but in the case of public school choice, be prepared to see your plans go awry. With a burgeoning school population in recent years, new schools and new school zones are in the works. You must keep an eye on developments even after you move. That said, here are the answers to your specific questions:

Pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds (no longer called nursery school at that age) is not required but it is indeed necessary. That's because that level is now almost equivalent to what we used to think of as kindergarten. Not every public school has a pre-K so many parents send their kids to schools outside of their zone, or, to free or low cost pre-schools off site at community organizations. There are not enough pre-kindergarten seats to meet the demand in many neighborhoods.  Acceptance to a public school pre-K does not automatically confer acceptance to kindergarten at the school. Assuming your zoned school is not bursting at the seams, you should be able to get into the kindergarten there.

Testing for gifted and talented programs takes place the year before your child enters kindergarten.

Test scores are just one of many criteria that you should look at to compile a list of top choices. You can find the 2006-2010 test scores for every school on the Department of Education website.  There are many other considerations such as  location, size of school and classes, type of program and teaching approach, facilities, arts, science, physical education  and more. You can read a profile of each school on Insideschools.

To narrow your search, I would start with location. Once you search by neighborhood, using the Insideschools.org Advanced search feature, you can call up a list of what we call "blue ribbon" or noteworthy, schools. These are schools that the staff has signaled out as special in some way. Of course you will eventually visit your choices, but that can wait until you are ready to move and your daughter is ready to go!

Finally, as you do your research,  find out about the school districts in the borough.  Each has a distinct personality and a community education council (CEC) where issues of overcrowding, new schools, and zoning changes are discussed.

Remember, before you choose a place to live, before you sign a deed or lease, call 311 to verify the school zone associated with the address and then call the school to double check to make sure you are in the school zone. And, note that some of the most popular Manhattan schools this year have extensive waitlists for kindergarten, although new school openings have helped alleviate some of the worst overcrowding.

Good luck.

Judy

Dear Judy,

I  have a wonderful and very respectful daughter who suffers  from anxiety and ADHD. She has never had a fight or behavioral problems. I am concerned with the change of school because this year she will be going to middle school and I am hoping you could help me with some tips on what to look for. The elementary school which she attended was worse for her because of the overwhelming number of bullies there.

AMG

Dear AMG,

Middle school is a big transition for most kids and can be particularly hard on sensitive children. Kids are are growing fast and changing a lot during these years and are vulnerable to any slights from their peers. Bullying goes beyond  a simple slight. It is a real problem in any grade, but in middle school, it is  important to stop it before it gets out of hand.

Before school starts, talk to the parent coordinator, the guidance counselor, the president of the PTA and  other parents in the school. One of these folks should tell you frankly if there is a culture of bullying and what the school is doing about it. Even if there is no current problem, there should be a  very clear policy about bullying and, importantly,  kids should know who they can confide in if they are victims. Moreover, the school should work hard, particularly at the start of the school year, to stress respect for one another, students and staff.  A recent White House conference on bullying spotlighted the problem so there is no excuse for a school ignoring it.

Here are some other ways that your middle school can ease the transition from elementary to middle school.  For your daughter, a small school where students get plenty of personal attention sounds right. A big school can also work if it is divided up into units where kids and teachers interact in small numbers. Big schools often have several different programs so look for one that interests your child and puts her in the company of kids who share her interests.

In either case, big school or small school,  look for “advisory” periods where the same  group of  kids meets with the same staff member once a week to talk over school problems. Sometimes they go on excursions together like skating or  picnicking.

Another feature to look for: weekly mini-courses or clubs, another chance to be with kids from other classes and grades who share common interests. Often scheduled on Fridays, kids take a class in something they really like such as art,   music,  astronomy, or chess. Usually teachers offer a class in their own areas of interest and their enthusiasm is infectious.

It goes without saying that if your daughter has an IEP and receives special education services, make sure the school offers the services that she is entitled to. Talk this over with the guidance counselor well before school starts. Most of all, be there to support your child, praise her accomplishments and tell her how proud you are.

Good luck.

Judy

Dear Judy,

What suggestions do you have for summer jobs for high school kids? I know the recession has limited jobs so if my teenagers can't get work, what else can they do?
Mother of teens

Dear Mother of Teens:

There are good sources for teen summer jobs and even more for free or very low cost programs that can develop job skills for the future. Note that there are deadlines to apply and some are coming up soon. There is plenty of competition for the available spots, so encourage your kids to start their job search now.

In fact, this advice is for the students themselves. The Summer Youth Employment Program run by New York City Department of Youth and Community Development is a major source of summer jobs for teens in New York City.  Seven-week jobs are open to kids as young as 14. The pay is  $7.25 per hour for up to 25 hours per week  and includes entry level jobs in government agencies, hospitals, summer camps, non-profits, small businesses, law firms, museums, sports enterprises, and retail organizations.  Applications will be available in April and can be downloaded from the website or call 1-800-246-4646 to find out where you can pick up a paper copy.

In Brooklyn, teens between the ages of 16 and 18 can apply for jobs  through Summer H.E.A.T (Help Employ Ambitious Teens)  HEAT is the borough president’s summer youth employment program, which encourages Brooklyn businesses to invest in youth through employment. The Student application is due March 15.

Enterprising teens can also approach neighborhood and chain stores to see if they need extra help to fill in for summer vacationers, ask neighbors for baby-sitting jobs, advertise to run errands, and do odd jobs for neighbors.

Note that teens ages 14-17 must get a certificate of employment, usually referred to as working papers, for most jobs. You can pick up the application at high schools – but call ahead to make sure a school has them. The New York State Department of Labor has details. As a rule, you do not need to have the certificate in hand until you get a job, but you should begin to assemble the documents, which include medical clearance and parent permission.

March 1 is "Lobby Day," the annual event when New York City parents, teachers, and activists travel by the hundreds to the state capitol and legislative office buildings to make their case for more funding for the city’s public schools. This year budget cuts, teachers’ jobs, and school closings are very much on their minds.

According to City Comptroller John Liu’s estimate, Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2011-2012 Executive Budget will reduce support for New York City’s school children by $953 million.

In Mayor Michael Bloomberg ‘s pitch to the legislature earlier this month, he said that state cuts will force massive teacher layoffs. He is pushing the state to change its method of laying off teachers to allow principals to choose who to let go, instead of a last hired, first out policy that state law mandates. Bloomberg also seeks an end to unfunded state mandates on special education, particularly the requirement that the city's Department of Education pay for private schools for kids with special needs.

New York City parents are concerned about the effect of budget cuts on layoffs, especially their effect on class size and after school and arts programs. They also want attention to monitoring school closings and co-locations of programs inside school buildings and an increase in parent participation in policy development.

Video protests too

An additional Lobby Day is scheduled for March 9, sponsored by the Alliance for Quality Education,, which advocates for public schools statewide.  Billy Easton, Executive Director of AQE,  said that the governor’ budget drastically undermines education and that instead of such cuts, the state should continue an income tax surcharge on New Yorkers earning more than $200,000.

Actress Cynthia Nixon and the AQE are sponsoring a video contest asking for community members to submit videos that tell the governor why their school can't afford more cuts.  Watch her video right here.

How to get on the bus

The March 1 buses to Albany are funded by the teachers union (UFT), although the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee (CPAC) takes the lead in organizing parents borough by borough. Buses will depart at 6:30 a.m.  from the Brooklyn UFT office, 335 Adams Street. Contact: Betty Zohar, 718-722-6937 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .   Manhattan buses leave at 6:30 a.m. from 52 Broadway. Contact William McDonald at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Sue Deitrich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. For travel from other boroughs, contact Anthony Harmon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Buses will arrive in Albany at 11 a.m. for a rally and lunch. Then parents and UFT personnel will fan out to meet their local Assembly representatives and State Senators.

For information on buses going to Albany on March 9, contact AQE organizer Zakiyah Ansari at 212 328 9266 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Parents: Will you be going to Albany?  Share your comments and concerns below.

.

Dear Judy,

I just got turned down by a few private schools for kindergarten. Am I too late for public school kindergarten?

Scrambling for a spot

Dear Scrambling,

You are not too late to apply for kindergarten but you'll need to get busy. Applications are due March 4 so you only have about a week to do your homework and apply.  This week public schools are closed for winter break, so use the time to investigate the possibilities online. Next week you can check them out in person.

Start with your zoned school. If you don’t know it, call 311 and ask. Even though you have a zoned school you still need to apply. When you go to the school to fill out an application, doublecheck with the school’s office staff just to make sure you're in the zone. (There have been zoning changes this year in several districts.) Make sure you to bring your child's birth certificate or passport and proof of residence (two documents).

As a zoned family, you have first dibs – usually. Ahead of you are siblings of zoned students already attending the school and just behind you are kids who live in the district but outside the school’s zone. The admissions priorities are spelled out on the Department of Education’s website. At some very overcrowded schools, there is not enough space for all zoned  kindergartners – although every student is assured a place somewhere. You are lucky because there is no benefit to those who sign up first – all applications which are received by March 4 will be considered equally in case  a lottery is necessary due to overcrowding.  Results will be known at the end of March.

While the Department of Education lets you apply to any school in the city, be realistic. You’ll have the most luck applying to your zoned school or another in your district. If you are dissatisfied with your zoned or district choices, check out unzoned schools. You can find those by doing an Advanced Search in our Find a School section. You’ll need to fill out an application at each school you would like to apply to.  Check out our tips on "how to enroll." Also, consider charter schools which have a separate admissions process and different deadlines. Applications to most charter schools are due by April 1; lotteries take place in April.

There are several ways to find out about individual schools. Look them up on Insideschools, read Clara Hemphill’s New York City’s Best Public Elementary Schools, and check out the Department of Education’s report card on the school. Ask your neighbors and also speak to the adults waiting to pick up kids after school.

An in-person tour is probably the best way to get the feel of the school, but the bad news is that tours are usually booked up by now. If so, ask the parent coordinator – each elementary school should have one - to take you around, at least to see the kindergarten.  In any case, you‘ll be inside the building to pick up an application and then maybe you can nose around a bit, get an idea of  the atmosphere and attitudes of the staff.

Make the most of the time remaining  -- do the research, visit the school, and speak to neighbors and  parents of attendees.  Good luck on your first foray into the public school “choice” process.

Judy

Is your child turning four-years-old  this year? The pre-kindergarten admissions process for next fall begins Monday, March 7 with  applications due by April 8.  All children who turn four in 2011 are eligible for public pre-K, although they are not guaranteed a seat. For newcomers to the process, the Department of Education is hosting information sessions in each borough, from March 7-9.

Applications, and directories listing every program will be online and available at elementary schools or at local enrollment offices beginning on March 7.

Pre-Ks are housed in public schools or at community-based organizations. (State funding requires that districts collaborate with community based groups to expand pre-K opportunities.)  Some programs are full-day (six hour and 20 minutes); others are half-day (2.5 hour morning or afternoon programs.)   Most classes, by state mandate, have 18 students, with one teacher and one para-professional.

All programs are supposed to meet learning standards set by the New York State Education Department and the New York City Department of Education.

The application process differs slightly depending on where a program is housed.

Public schools

You  may apply for pre-K programs housed in public schools online, in person at an enrollment center, or by mail. You can list up to 12 schools in one submission and rank them by order of preference. At most schools you will have to re-apply for kindergarten.

Students with siblings who attend a school receive first priority; of those, families who live in the school zone receive first dibs in most cases. (There are a few places where this is not the case, such as Manhattan’s District 1 which has no zoned schools.)  Students without sibling preference are also ranked according to whether or not they live in the zone, or district and whether or not their zoned school offers pre-K. Admissions priorities are detailed in the Chancellor's Regulation on admissions.

Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) - not always free

Applications for pre-K programs housed in CBOs are not handled by the DOE, although they are listed in the directory.   You must apply for each CBO program separately and deliver that application to the program’s site (no mail or online submissions).

Although  the DOE maintains that all pre-K programs are free,  we encountered a somewhat different reality. For instance, programs housed at Head Start or daycare facilities might be free for the 2.5  hour program, but kids are required to take "wrap around services," that is to stay for the rest of the day's activities. And these are not free --- most  charge a sliding scale fee based on family income.  A program can be embedded in a private school, such as a Montessori school where tuition can reach $16,000 with a $3000 reimbursement for the publicly funded part of the day, but kids must attend a full day and pay tuition.  There are programs in Y's and community centers that are completely free, but some directors fear that the budget shortfalls may soon require payment of some sort.

The disparities result from various contractual  arrangements  that the DOE negotiates with CBOs and agencies.  Many day care and Head Start programs are reserved for poverty level families; others serve mostly low-income families but are required to  reserve 10% of their pre-K spots for "over income families," according to Dominique West, director of operations in the  DOE's  Early Childhood Office. As long as there are openings in free pre-k programs around the city, the state does not object to fee-based or tuition- based pre-K, she said.

The pre-K directory you pick up at a school or online will not tell you whether the program is free or or fee-based   -- when parents contact CBO program directly (as they must to apply) they should ask if there are income or other eligibility requirements.

Whether you are applying to programs in public schools or at a community organization, it's a good idea to visit before applying. Most schools and daycare centers will arrange a tour. Take a look at our tips on what to look for when applying to pre-K.

And, parents who have been through this process before, please share your insights.

Dear Judy,

I am concerned that the parents in my neighborhood are automatically bypassing the zoned school, that my children attend. My kids have had academic success and I have gained appreciation for the principal and staff. How can I convince others to give it a try?

Lonely at my zoned school

Dear Lonely:

I share your concerns about parents writing off their zoned schools – particularly schools that have reasonably good track records and are on the upswing. Recently, at the urging of neighborhood parents, I visited PS 125 in District 5. The school, in Harlem,  faced dwindling enrollment which was troubling to local parents who wanted to keep their kids in the neighborhood, rather than scramble for an out-of-district choice.  Families of enrolled students and pre-school parents formed a committee to attract others. They worked with the principal to expand the dual language program; they held coffees for friends and neighbors in their homes, and they invited parents to open houses at the school. Their efforts paid off with a sizable kindergarten enrollment. There have been similar successes in attracting new neighborhood parents to schools such PS 11 and PS 8 in District 13 in Brooklyn, and, I am sure, many others.

How to get started? Rope in parents who share your passion for the school. Approach the principal to get her on board, and brainstorm about how to increase buzz about the school.  Decide on the strong points to talk up and also the weak spots that can be remedied.  According to a friend of Insideschools,who was involved in the turn-around of a school in Clinton Hill, you have to address issues that many parents fear: 1) an unfriendly administration that does not listen to parents concerns; 2) an atmosphere that is too rigid; 3) racial and socio-economic diversity. I would add to that, the desire for rigorous academics.

Reach out to prospective parents at playgrounds and in pre-schools and invite them in to talk about their own kids’ experiences and to discuss parent concerns.   If the principal attends, so much the better!  Parent-led tours at the school are another path to parent to parent interaction. .

Make your school an important presence in the neighborhood. Hold public events,  as fund raisers and as attractions to the neighborhood. It could be a street fair,  a recycling day for electronics, a playground  flea market or swap fest,  a celebrity performance, a sing along, or something else.  Advertise through posters in stores, banks, apartment lobbies, and place a notice in your community newspaper. Of course, post comments about what is special about your school on its Insideschools.org's profile page.

All this takes time, commitment, and patience and might benefit from forming a  semi- formal organization such as “Friends of PS…”  Recruitment is only the beginning, The school has to fulfill its promises to families and parents have to take an active part in supporting the school.  The partnership is ongoing and only continued progress will keep the initial excitement alive.

NOTE: All parents clamor for choice, but unfortunately not all schools are equally viable choices. That leads to a scramble for the schools with the best reputation while other schools get neglected.  No matter how a school has improved, the perception of inferiority lingers.  It becomes a burden on the schools to convince their constituency that their school is one of the viable choices.  Some complain that there is no help from the DOE either to boost its performance or to encourage local enrollment. Try to work closely with the district Community Education Council and with the school's support network leaders. And reach out to other schools that have been successful to see what they've done that works.

Good luck!

We invite parents and educators who have worked to turn around their schools to share their ideas, successes, and also their  frustrations.

Judy