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Friday, Feb. 14 is the last day for parents of incoming kindergartners to apply to schools online via Kindergarten Connect. But parents who don't speak English, or don't have an email address, are finding it hard to connect, DNAInfo found.
(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com; by Amy Zimmer and Gustavo Solis)
Maribel Vega doesn't own a computer, has no email address and speaks only Spanish — all of which made it extremely difficult to sign up her 5-year-old daughter, Ashley, for kindergarten this year.
That's because in order to use the city's Kindergarten Connect system, which went live in January and has open enrollment through Feb. 14, Vega needed to be digitally savvy, and be able to read and fill out an English-only application. Thankfully for her, she found workers at the Upper West Side's Bloomingdale Family Head Start Program to help walk her through every step of the process.
"They helped with everything," said Vega, 25, who moved to the Bronx from Mexico six years ago. "I don't know where we would have found another computer to use.
If you're looking for an elementary school for your child, you want to know: Do most parents and teachers recommend the school? Is it welcoming? How many students are in a kindergarten class? Is the atmosphere calm or rowdy? How do children do on standardized tests?
Now, just in time for the Feb.14 deadline to apply to kindergarten, we've got the answers to those questions for 735 public elementary schools, including charters. Our new feature, called Insidestats, presents easy-to-read data on elementary schools on each school's profile page. For example, you can see that at popular PS 321 in Park Slope, 97 percent of the teachers think the principal is a good manager.
Data is drawn from the Department of Education's parent and teacher surveys as well as the results of standardized tests and other DOE statistics. (We'll have stats for schools with grades K-8 posted soon!) The new feature is similar to Insidestats for high schools and middle schools, but for elementary schools, we include information about what parents think of the school.
Two weeks into the city's new online application system for children entering kindergarten in September, there is some confusion about how it works. We don't have all the answers to parents' questions, but here's what we know so far.
Q: My child is turning five years old in 2014. How do I sign him up for school?
This year the city began a new kindergarten application system called Kindergarten Connect. Between Jan. 13 and Feb. 14 you may apply online, by telephone at 718-935-2400 from 8 am to 6 pm Monday-Friday or in person at a Department of Education enrollment office. There is one application and you may list up to 20 schools.
Q: My two sons applied to the same college Early Action, and they have both been accepted. Since they were EA applicants, they are not obligated to enroll at that college, and they have also applied to other schools. They don't know yet where they want to go, and will probably take a while to decide, before the May 1st deadline.
But I am concerned about the amount of merit aid they have been awarded. For some reason, one of my sons received an award of $40,000 merit aid, while the other one, who had a slightly higher GPA and slightly higher SATs, received $0. Unfortunately, it's this second son who is more interested in the school. At what point do I approach the school, and ask them if they will review their merit aid? Do I wait until he's sure he wants to go there? If it's in April, will that be too late?
A: I don't have enough information to know why one of your sons was made a generous offer, while the other has been offered nothing. It sounds like you have no idea, either. Does one son have stronger courses than the other? Or a special talent – such as in athletics or music -- that has been rewarded? You deserve to know the answer.
Politicians and parents in November petitioned the Education Department to let qualified children fill Gifted & Talented seats that remained empty after the October enrollment deadline. In a reply last week, the DOE refused the request, saying it would be "extremely disruptive" to schools and families to allow children to enroll now.
"Office of Student Enrollment (OSE) conducted multiple rounds of waitlist offers for available seats at G&T programs citywide," wrote a DOE official in a response to Councilwoman Gail Brewer and Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell's November letter requesting the DOE allow qualified students access to empty G&T seats at two Upper West Side schools.
The DOE said that they had conducted "multiple rounds" of waitlist offers after too few families accepted offers to fill seats at PS 163 and PS 165.
O'Donnell disputes the DOE's explanation. "I have heard from students who scored as high as the 96th to 99th percentiles on the test, and were still given no offer, although they ranked PS 165 and PS 163 as top choices in the initial process," he wrote in response to the DOE's letter.
O'Donnell will continue to press the DOE to open up seats. He says that schools and families do not find the post-October 31st enrollment disruptive.
Karen Alicea-Dunn has been trying to get her son, Dylan, who scored in the 96th percentile on the G&T exam, into PS 163's G&T program for two months. In November, the school told Dunn that Dylan could enroll in the general education program -- but not the G&T. Dunn isn't worried about switching elementary school programs mid-year. "I'm ready," she said.
In late November, WNYC reported that at least 24 schools citywide still have room for more kids in their G&T programs.
If you're a parent choosing a middle school, you want to know: Do the academics prepare kids for high school? Do the teachers recommend the school? Kids want to know: Does the school require uniforms? Are the other kids nice?
Now, just in time for this week's Dec. 13 application deadline, Insideschools has launched Insidestats for middle schools. Similar to Insidestats for high school, we have comprehensive data on 430 middle and secondary schools, including charter schools. You can see at a glance how big the classes are, whether kids think there are enough interesting programs and whether 8th graders take and pass Regents math and science exams.
A couple of years ago, we criticized the Department of Education's school Progress Reports for oversimplifying the strengths and weaknesses of each school with a single "A" to "F" grade. (Apparently Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio agrees with us, having said he'll do away with the simplistic letter grades.)
With Insidestats, we offer a more nuanced picture, because different schools are good at different things. Some schools take high-achieving kids and push them to ever greater heights. But others do a particularly good job with kids who need special education or English language instruction. Insidestats shows you the difference.
Take Mark Twain in Coney Island, which is open to students citywide. Everyone knows it's a terrific school that sends more graduates to specialized high schools than almost any other middle school. But maybe you didn't know that its students with special needs also fare better than the average city school. Or that 100 percent of the teachers say they recommend the school to parents. On the downside, students have to contend with larger-than-average class size.
Compare that with another popular citywide school: New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST). Class size here is lower, just about average for the city, but fewer teachers--82 percent --say they would recommend the school and only 28 percent think the principal is a good manager.
We hope Insidestats will help those of you still wondering which schools to rank on your middle school applications.
I am concerned about the new kindergarten admissions process in regard to my young child. He has a late December birthday. I know I don't have to send him to kindergarten but what if he is not ready for first grade in the year he turns 6?
December child's mom
Dear December child's mom:
I know that there are lots of parents who are concerned that their children are too young to start kindergarten -- especially those who will still be four years old for the first three months of school.
New York City’s Education Funders Research Initiative asked our parent organization, the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, to identify key priorities for education reform under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. On Thursday, the Center for New York City Affairs released the results: a new report called "Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor can Prepare New York's Students for College and Careers," co-authored by Insideschools founder Clara Hemphill. The paper analyzes the successes and failures of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education initiatives—and proposes six key areas on which the next administration should focus attention and resources.
A top priority: Make sure young children can read. This is a first, crucial building block for school reform efforts.
Other priorities include:
- Use the Common Core to build a true, skills-based college preparatory curriculum.
- Revise the accountability system to use a wider range of measures, and to be more responsive to schools and families.
- Keep principals' control of hiring, budgets and curriculum—but provide them greater supervision and support.
- Strengthen neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.
- Build early and ongoing support for college and career guidance.
I am getting concerned about applying to kindergarten. How does the new system work? I like my zoned school, it has a great reputation, but because of that it is very popular and there is always an overflow of kindergarten applications. What happens if it is the only school I choose and my child does not get a place?
Anticipating KG Mom
Dear Anticipating KG Mom,
Under the new Kindergarten Connect system, which is managed by a vendor not the schools themselves, parents rank up to 20 schools in order of preference. You apply between Jan. 13- Feb. 14, filling out an online application, calling 718-935-2400, or visiting a borough enrollment office from 8am-3pm, Monday to Friday. If you go to your zoned school, or any other school, the staff will advise you on how to file the application, but they won’t do it for you.
High school applications are due on Dec. 2, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, for 8th graders, and 9th graders who want to go to a different school next year.
Still undecided where to apply? Check out our new Insideschools mobile website on your smartphone. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades and/or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.
Here are some tips for 8th graders and their families to mull over after the turkey is eaten.