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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.
It seems like only yesterday that I was worrying myself sick about how my four-year-old son with special needs would make the leap from preschool to kindergarten. (For the record, he’s five now and doing fabulously!) For any child, the move to “big kid school” is a huge transition for the whole family, but for those of us whose children will be receiving special services, the process is fraught with that much more paperwork, research and worry.
Your local kindergarten orientation meeting is a good place to start learning about how services transition from preschool to kindergarten. During the first three weeks of December, the Department of Education is hosting citywide meetings in all boroughs for families of students with disabilities entering kindergarten in September 2014. Here are a few meeting tips from someone who has been there:
Families will have just one month to use the new online system to apply to kindergarten for 2014, according to admissions dates posted by the Department of Education today. Parents of children born in 2009 may apply online, on the phone to a central DOE number or in person at an enrollment office between Jan. 13-Feb.14. Not only is the online admissions process, called Kindergarten Connect, a change from previous years, but the application period is earlier and shorter. Last year families applied in person at schools between Jan. 22- March 1.
The shift in timeline caught some elementary schools and parents off guard, according to DNAInfo which yesterday reported that many schools have scheduled tours and open houses in February and March, after applications are due. "If this hasn't been coordinated with school tours, how can you make an educated decision?" a parent said to DNAInfo.
Families may list up to 20 schools on the application and will be given one placement in April. All public schools will participate in the new admission system, even those that are unzoned. Admission priorities will remain the same as previous years, the DOE said, with zoned students given priority to their zoned school.
The official kindergarten application period doesn't begin until January, but, if your child turns five in 2014, now is the time to begin considering your options and filling in your calendar with important dates.
You must sign up for the gifted and talented test this week and some schools are already hosting and scheduling open houses and tours for parents of prospective students. Also, the Education Department is making changes to the kindergarten admissions system and age requirements. We round up the important dates and changes after the jump.
It's that time of year again for families of four- and five-year-olds interested in the Department of Education's much sought-after gifted and talented programs. Although last year's testing season was a bit rocky, with a new, harder test and much-publicized grading errors, this year the DOE promises few changes (and hopefully less drama). Admissions expert Robin Aronow of School Search NYC spoke with us and noted that the only major difference this year is that the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT2) now each count 50 percent toward the total G&T percentile score. (Last year the Naglieri was approximately 66 percent and the OLSAT 33 percent.) Aronow emphasized other key dates and procedures that families should keep in mind:
• November 8th is the deadline for completing the Request For Testing (RFT) online, but the sooner the better to get a desirable date, time and location. You will be offered options for test dates, times and locations during weekends in January. (If your child is also applying to Hunter College Elementary School, which has a separate application, remember to take Hunter's second round evaluation dates into consideration when selecting your DOE test date).
• Prospective kindergartners will be tested one-on-one and will point to answers; they do not need to bubble in answers. If applying for first grade and up, your child will be tested in small groups and will need to bubble in answers.
• Alternate language assessments are available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. It is not permissible to alternate between languages during the test administration. As children do not answer any questions orally, test your child in the language he or she most understands when spoken by an adult. Please note that applicants already in a DOE program may only take the test in an alternate language if entitled to services in English as a Second Language.
• Scores in the 90th percentile or above qualify your child for a district G&T program, although seats are not guaranteed. Please note that children are compared to others whose birthdays are within three months of theirs. If your child is eligible, you will receive an application in early April due back by April 18, 2014.
• Scores in the 97th percentile or above qualify your child for a citywide program. In reality, your child will need to score in 99th percentile—and have a stroke of luck—to be offered a citywide placement or a highly desirable district placement. This is due to the high number of applicants scoring in the 99th percentile.
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.
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.
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.
The other night my son chose one of my all-time favorite children’s books to read, “I Am Too Absolutely Small for School” by Lauren Child. The story follows a quirky little girl named Lola who, when informed by her brother Charlie that she will be starting school in the fall, comes up with many creative reasons why she needn’t go (among them that she does not need to learn to count to 100 because “I never eat more than ten cookies at one time”). Luckily, Charlie's counterarguments win over Lola in the end, and she finds that school is much more fun than she expected.
We’ve been reading the book quite a lot lately, and since both my boys are starting new schools this fall (Doodle heads to preschool, and Noodle to kindergarten) it’s no big surprise. Reading along as Lola successfully overcomes her fears is just one way for my kids to work through their own emotions about this big transition.
On my quest to find more good books about starting school, I had the pleasure of speaking to librarian Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist for BookOps, the shared technical services organization of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. Here are some of her top choices. Check out your local library to see if you can find them on the shelves.