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by Jared Roebuck

Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration recently announced that a number of charter and district schools will become partners this school year in exchanging ideas and best practices. The subject of school discipline offers fertile territory—what we do when things go wrong. While suspension numbers may go down, it's also likely that school culture and safety will continue to be a challenge and an opportunity to get beyond the reductive charter-vs-district-school conflicts of recent years. Specifically, it's a chance for some district schools to learn from the charter experience about the importance of purposefully executing a vision for school culture. At the same time, it's also an opportunity for certain charters to move beyond their reliance on "no excuses" disciplinary practices (of the kind captured in the memorable viral video of a 1st grade Success Academy teacher) that don't equip students to become considerate, independent adolescents and adults.

The most hopeful outcome would be to expand on the current impetus for "restorative justice" in schools in ways that create "intentionally restorative" school cultures. My experience in both charter and district schools tells me that restorative practices aren't just useful for remedying student misbehavior; they also help students become empathetic, connected, and community-oriented citizens.

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One thing I noticed during my ten-month long career as a 5th-grader is that parents often get confused with the definition of a “good school.”

Parents, there is no such thing as a “good school.” There may be a good school for your child, but there is no all-around exemplary school. Even the most elite gifted and talented schools have downsides. When choosing a school for your child, you need to make sure that your child will be getting both the services they need and that they’ll be happy at that school. For example, a school may boast that they have the highest test scores, but they don’t have after-school clubs.

If your child receives special services, such as counseling or speech therapy, you have to make sure the school offers those services. Schools are supposed to do that, but that doesn’t always happen.

Tours really help you get a sense of how a school works. Tours usually run from early October to late November and middle school applications are due Dec. 1. You can usually sign up for a tour by looking on a school’s website or calling the school. District CEC pages sometimes list tours too. You can find contact information for schools through the InsideSchools search tool, and for a list of middle school fairs, visit the DOE Middle School events page

Tours at popular schools fill up quickly so be proactive! October becomes a very busy month.

In November, you receive your application. Now, the application is one of the most complicated documents you will ever see in your lifetime. I’ll be doing a whole post about how to navigate the application.

By the way, just know, this can be a very stressful time. It's hard to take off time from work to do tours and not really knowing if a school is going to be a good fit for your child. One time, when we were touring the school, it was raining, the school was a bit hard to get to, my mom’s coffee spilled everywhere and her umbrella broke. But, we learned from that tour that it was simply not the right school for me.

Please share information on each school’s profile page. I know the NYC school system very well, so if you need some personalized advice, comment below.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my next installment!

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016 17:34

Biggest adjustment in middle school? Lockers!

Our 6th-grade blogger Nathaniel Cain checks in with a report after his first full week of middle school in Brooklyn.

On Thursday, the first day of school, I was VERY, VERY nervous. I didn't know anyone—except one friend, who was in a different class. It turned out great—all my teachers are amazing. They're super nice and I can tell that they will be teaching me a lot. I can tell this year is going to be great!

It definitely took some small adjustments, though. In elementary school, they have the learning materials. In middle school, especially a large one like mine, they expect you to have everything in your bag, in the moment. Also, going from class to class took some adjusting, too. The 8th-graders tend to dominate the hallways and it's very, very crowded.

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The call to our home came a few months into my older son's freshman year at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the performing arts public high now under fire for prioritizing academics over talent.

"This is Dr. Barbara Rowes, and I have something to tell you.''

My heart caught in my throat as I waited to hear from this feared but highly respected English teacher, notorious for setting seemingly impossibly high standards at the school made iconic in the 1980 movie “Fame”.

"Now, I know that your son wants to be a rock star,'' she told me. "But I just finished grading his paper. I think he has a future as a scholar."

I knew he'd been struggling. And now, here was one teacher in this sprawling school of the arts who cared enough about his writing progress to let me know—a measure of how seriously the school takes its dual mission of both college and conservatory arts preparation.

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Applying to middle school—a process that begins in the fall of 5th grade—can be stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s very important that you stay on task.

My name is Nathaniel Cain and I am a soon-to-be 6th-grader at MS 51, the William Alexander School in Brooklyn’s District 15. I comment on Insideschools frequently and you may know me from my profile, “sixthgrader.”

When I was applying to middle school, I had two challenges: 1. There are no zoned middle schools in District 15; and 2. I was living in one of the most competitive school districts in all of New York City. Your struggles may be different.

Here are some tips as you navigate through the middle school process, whether you’re a parent or a rising 5th-grade student:

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By Katie Radvany and Kaia Tien

If you’re a rising freshman, you’re probably already freaking out about your first day of high school. But everyone is just as terrified as you are. You might think everyone is going to be in a competition to rise to the top of the social strata, but being at the top is overrated. High school is only four short years, so you might as well spend it with the people you like.

Do's and don’ts:

We’ve been through this year ourselves, and we have a lot of advice to offer. But the most important thing to remember is do not, under any circumstance, use a rolling backpack. Everyone will be giving you dirty looks in the halls when they trip over it.

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by Karra Puccia

During 10 months of the year, hundreds of thousands of New York City kids eat free school breakfasts and lunches. These meals constitute a vital lifeline for families with already-stretched food budgets. So for many such families, the June 28th last day of public school classes may be less about planning summer fun for the kids and more about facing a serious months-long gap in their nutrition.

It doesn't have to be that way. Each year, the federal Summer Food Service Program (which New York City's Department of Education administers under the name "NYC Summer Meals") provides free breakfasts and lunches to all kids 18 and younger—without registration, documents or ID required. From June 29th—the first full day of summer school vacation—right through September 2nd, Summer Meals will be offered weekdays at public schools, Parks Department outdoor pools, New York City Housing Authority complexes, libraries, food pantries, soup kitchens, community organizations and other locations throughout the city. There will also be four mobile food trucks providing meals seven days a week.

Unfortunately, the Summer Meals program can seem like the world's best-kept secret. Food Bank For New York City is in a position to know. We serve nearly 1.4 million people—almost one out of every five New New Yorkers –through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens and community-based charities. And our October 2013 report, "Hunger's New Normal: Redefining Emergency in Post-Recession New York City," which was based on interviews with more than 1,200 people using food pantries and soup kitchens in all five boroughs, found that a whopping two-thirds of families using those resources don't take advantage of Summer Meals. The number one reason? They don't even know about it.

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by Nicole Mader, Bruce Cory, and Celeste Royo

The most recent Urban Matters ("Tough Test Ahead: Bringing Diversity to New York's Specialized High Schools") reported on patterns of racial and ethnic admission to some of the city's most prestigious secondary schools and how admissions might more closely mirror the overall composition of the city's public schools. As we showed, only about 16 percent of high-performing Black and Hispanic middle school students gain admission to these elite public high schools.

This week we're following up on comments and questions we received from you.

First, we show all 7th graders in 2012-13 by race, ethnicity and performance level at all 536 public middle schools (including charter schools). At the top of this chart, we see the handful of "feeder" middle schools that send high-performing students of all races to the eight high schools that rely on the specialized high school admissions tests (SHSAT). But we also see hundreds of schools that fail to prepare any students for these specialized schools. Click here to see the chart.

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By Bruce Cory, editorial advisor and Nicole Mader, data analyst at the Center for New York City Affairs.

There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9 percent of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6 percent the year before. Some say the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) is discriminatory and should be scrapped; others say the test merely reflects the poor preparation most Black and Hispanic students, who make up some 68 percent of public school enrollment, get in the elementary and middle schools.

Now, new research by the Center for New York City Affairs shows that even Black and Hispanic students who do very well in middle school—that is, those who as 7th-graders earn the best possible scores on either math or English language arts (ELA) state standardized tests—are much less likely to attend specialized high schools than their similarly high-performing Asian or White classmates.

This suggests that the City’s Department of Education (DOE) may be able to increase Black and Hispanic specialized high school admissions without scrapping the SHSAT (a politically daunting task) or completely overhauling the elementary and middle schools. It offers hope that plans announced last week to increase the diversity of students taking and passing the SHSAT could produce progress.

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It's time for 7th-graders to be thinking about applying to high school. The Department of Education announced key dates for rising 8th-graders including its annual series of July high school admissions information sessions.

The 2017 high school directory is online, and paper copies are available for every 7th-grader at schools and at Family Welcome Centers. In addition to the 600-page book that lists every city high school, there are now individual directories for each borough. Students may see at a glance the different kinds of programs in each borough and what the particular challenges are for students applying. 

In another change, the directory now makes it easier to understand the odds of acceptance to a school whether you are in the pool of general education (GE) students or are a student with a disability (SWD). For each school there's information on the number of GE and SWD seats available, how many applicants there were for each category in the previous year and whether or not those seats were filled.

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