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When I look back on the full-time job of finding a New York City public high school for my kids, I’m reminded of looking for my first apartment.
Anyone else remember coming to New York City with big dreams and a tiny paycheck? And being shown moldy, tiny apartments, up endless flights of stairs, in neighborhoods no one wanted to visit?
Remember fantasizing about fireplaces, decks and duplexes? Maybe the dreams weren’t even that big. In those early days, I would have happily settled for views of anything other than brick walls, proximity to a subway, and maybe a small washing machine.
Sorry to say that the real estate comparison is valid when you are searching out high schools in Gotham. Your fantasy apartment is out of reach; the perfect high school does not exist.
Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs held between Oct. 8-17. Middle school directories for 2013-2014 are online and hard copies are being distributed by elementary schools. Clara Hemphill of Insideschools will be giving a free talk about middle school options on Thursday at New York University.
Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites, or call the school to find out about them. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added.
In addition to fairs, some districts hold informational nights where principals talk about their schools. Check with your district's family advocate to see if one is scheduled. (You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.)
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!
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.
As I planned to relocate to New York City to begin a fellowship at Columbia University this fall, a housing specialist advised me to move into School District 3 because it had “better options” for my 12-year-old daughter.
By the time I established residency — a prerequisite for enrolling in the city’s public schools — the “better options” in District 3 had been filled to the hilt.
On our third visit to the makeshift enrollment center in the auditorium of the High School of Fashion Industries on 24th Street (the first time we were turned away because we lacked a lease; the second time there was a “transmission error” as my daughter’s records were being faxed over) we secured a referral to Community Action School.
But after an interview with the school’s assistant principal, my daughter — who earned almost entirely A’s and B’s at her last school — was rejected in favor of another student for what was purportedly the last remaining seat.
High school graduation rates are higher than ever before but college completion remains frustratingly elusive for New York City's public high school graduates.
Barely half of students who enroll in CUNY schools graduate with a Bachelor's degree in six years; fewer than one in five of the students who enrolled in city community colleges in 2009 earned a two-year Associate's degree by 2012. Many city high school grads begin college at a disadvantage: not even a third of New York City's class of 2012 earned high enough test scores to avoid remedial courses at CUNY, which has been nicknamed the "13th grade."
A new report from the Center for New York City Affairs (Insideschools' parent organization), Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC's Precarious New Generation of College Students, explores why so many New York City high school grads struggle to earn college degrees. It gives recommendations on how the city's Department of Education and schools could improve college preparation in K-12 enabling students to have a better chance of success. The report follows four years of research by the Center in 14 low-income city schools which were working to improve their college numbers.
Confused about high school admissions? Have questions you need answered about particular schools, or how to fill out the 12-school application?
Insideschools.org can help! We are offering a free workshop for parents on Oct. 9: High School Hustle: How to apply.
Leading the discussion will be Clara Hemphill, founding editor of Insideschools and author of New York City's Best Public High Schools. Joining her are other experts on high school admissions, including Jacquie Wayans, Insideschools assignment editor and Bronx parent of three public school students.
We'll present Insidestats, a new way to judge high schools, explain what to look for in a high school, talk about the various types of high schools and provide plenty of time for Q&A.
The event is sponsored by the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School. It will take place at the Theresa Lang Community & Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 2nd floor, 55 West 13th Street, from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, Oct. 9. It is free, but you must RSVP to EventBrite.
See you there! (Let us know in comments below what questions you'd like to see answered.)
This weekend, Sept. 28 and 29, is the Department of Education's gigantic citywide high school fair from 10 am to 3 pm at Brooklyn Technical High School. Prepare for a hectic day, where you will meet teachers, students and administrators and find out about their schools.
You can attend information sessions several times during the day, led by staff from the Education Department's enrollment office. This will be helpful especially if you're a newbie to the process (and it will give you a place to sit down and take a breather.)
Here's the schedule provided by the DOE:
- High School Admissions at 11 am and 2 pm on both Saturday and Sunday
- Auditioning for High School Arts Schools and Programs at 12:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday
Most schools will have a table staffed by students, teachers, parent cordinators, guidance counselors and, sometimes the principal. Each borough has a dedicated space between the 2nd and 7th floors. The nine specialized high schools are set up in the first floor gymnasium.
Before you go, make sure to make a list of your "must see" schools. Read the reviews on Insideschools and watch the slideshows and videos. Look at our new "Insidestats" section. It'll give you a thumbnail description on a school's safety and vibe, how well it prepares kids for college, the graduation rate and much more.
Here are some questions you might want to ask school representatives:
- How much homework is typical? Is homework assigned over school vacations?
- Are students allowed outside the building for lunch?
- Does the school offer four years of math and four years of science? (Important for college prep)
- Are Advanced Placement classes offered? What subjects? What are the requirement to take an AP class?
- Besides passing required Regents exams, are there are requirements for graduation? Some schools require you to present a portfolio of your work, or perform community service.
- If the school has a graduating class, which colleges did graduates attend? What percentage of grads went to college? (Check out our Insidestats for that info as well)
- How does the administration handle discipline?
- Are there metal detectors?
- How does the school help students who are struggling?
- How does it challenge the strongest students?
- What are my chances for admission if I don't meet the specific requirements?
- Is there a uniform?
- What are the after school activities? What teams do they have? (Note that this can change from year to year and the directory might not be accurate!)
Here are a few more pointers for the day of the fair:
- Rather than carry around a hefty, heavy directory, consider ripping out the pages of schools that most interest you beforehand.
- Bring a notebook and pen to write down your impressions and any notes
- Collect fliers, or write down, the dates and times of school info sessions and tours
- If there's a sign-in sheet for a school that interests you -- sign in! That gives you a leg-up in admissions for some schools
- Dress for summer. It gets hot and steamy inside the huge building and there is no place to stash a jacket.
- Wear comfortable shoes and bring water. You'll be climbing up and down stairs. There will be food and drink for sale, but still, nice to have your own supply.
- Don't drive! Brooklyn Tech is close to virtually all subway lines and many bus routes. Traffic in the surrounding residential streets can be horrendous, so do yourself a favor and take public transportation.
Insideschools will be at the fair. Stop by our first floor table too.
Before you go, be sure to watch our video: Making the most of the high school fair
If you don't make the big fair this weekend, there will be fairs in every borough on Oct. 19 and 20. Insideschools is hosting our own Applying to High School event on Oct. 9. Watch for details.
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.
Q: I am a sophomore in high school, but I am already looking at colleges and think I want to transfer between several campuses. I was wondering if that is even possible – to attend not just one or two, but even three colleges without adding any extra years. If so, would I be able to transfer between any school I like, or would a certain school's transfer program limit my choices?
A: Not only are you thinking ahead, you are thinking TOO far ahead! Generally, I tell sophomores that it really is too early to start planning for college (other than being open-minded and making academics their #1 priority). But your question about transferring is something that concerns many students.
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.