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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 10:57

Parents win victory in PCB removal

The Department of Education's announcement yesterday that it will accelerate the removal of light fixtures that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from more than 730 school buildings by December 2016 is an important victory for New York City school children and their families.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by parent and advocacy groups, the city agreed to halve the timeline for the PCB removal from flourescent lights.The clean-up was supposed to be done by 2021 but the city will expedite the process to be completed in the next 3.5 years.

The renegotiated timeline is a result of more than two years of litigation brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The advocacy groups sued the DOE in 2011 over its intentions to remove the PCB contaminated fixtures over a ten year period. In March, a federal judge ruled against the city's motion to dismiss the suit, admonishing the city for its "foot-dragging" and "spurious" arguments over the clean-up of school buildings. In a stinging decision, the judge said that he was troubled over the city's dismissive attitude to potential health risks faced by children in schools with PCB-contaminated light fixtures. The settlement will require the DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and the NYLPI and the court will continue to monitor the city's work until the last light fixture is removed. 

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Fifth-graders around the city should find out today or tomorrow where they have been accepted to middle school. That's several days earlier than the May 20 date posted on the Department of Education's calendar.

Public elementary schools are picking up the letters at the enrollment offices on Thursday and will distribute them to children.  If you don't get a letter today or tomorrow, contact your parent coordinator. Private school students should get their school assignments in the mail; if you don't receive a letter, go to the nearest enrollment office for help.

Unlilke the citywide high school application process, middle school admission varies by district. Some districts have zoned schools where children are assigned to middle school based on their address. Other districts have school choice and no zoned schools. A few, such as District 2, offer both zoned and unzoned schools. All students are guaranteed a seat at a school in their district. Those who apply to citywide, charter or other non-district choice schools may be accepted at several schools.

If you're not happy with the school to which you have been matched, you can appeal. Public school students should ask their elementary school guidance counselor for an appeal form; private school students may get one at the enrollment center. Wednesday, May 29 is the deadline to appeal.

Insideschools would like to hear from families who have appealed their middle school assignments in the past. Parents would like to know how the process works and whether appeals are generally successful. This is information that the Department of Education does not make public...at least they have not done so in the past.

 

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A catalogue arrived the other day from Urban Outfitters, the ubiquitous clothing chain that dresses so many U.S. teenagers. Along with hipster uniforms of skinny jeans, chunky jewelry and platform sandals, I saw photographs of long-limbed girls wearing shorts so skimpy they might as well have been bathing suit bottoms.

With so little left to the imagination, I couldn't help asking the teenage boys who reside in my household if this was how girls dress at their New York City public high school.

"All the time,'' was their answer, and I should not have been surprised. Since middle school, I've repeatedly noticed girls coming to school wearing not much at all.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who has taken note. A lot of New York City public school officials aren't terribly happy about the scantily clad students whose desire to shed layers increases as the weather warms up.

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Dear Judy,

I know that kids are required to go to school a certain amount of hours and days. Can you tell me how many hours of school are required and if they are different at different grades?

Mary

Dear Mary,

Your question opens a complex set of issues – bound up in state law and regulations, allocation of state aid and New York City's own variations, developed with the United Federation of Teachers and codified in their contract.

Students in New York state are required to attend school from age six. (In NYC the age is five, except that parents can choose to opt out of kindergarten and start their six year olds in 1st grade instead.)

When figuring out the length of the school day and hours of instruction, keep in mind that state laws define minimum hours.  Increased number of days and hours are allowed, provided that the union agrees. Charter schools are not bound by these rules, indeed most charters have extended instruction time, and many non-charter public schools do as well.

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If you are between the ages of 14 and 24, you may apply by May 10 for the New York City Summer Youth Employment program.

Participants work up to 25 hours a week for seven weeks, earning $7.25 per hour. Job sites include government agencies, hospitals, summer camps, nonprofits, small businesses, and retailers. See the NYC Department of Youth & Community Development website for more information and an application.

Still looking for a free summer program for your teen? The Long Island University campus in Brooklyn has several programs that still have space, including one for budding accountants, another on college readiness, a third for artistic kids who will learn to draw and paint from professional artists and a fourth for coursework and class trips on writing, speaking, critical thinking, research and creativity. The Fort Greene-Clinton Hill Patch gives a rundown, including contact information for each program. Deadlines have been extended until June.

 

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The Department of Education is forcing most of the city’s selective high schools to accept a certain percentage of special needs students, even, in some cases, if they don't meet the eligibility requirements. Both general and special education students were assigned to top performing arts programs even though they didn't audition, infuriating some parents whose children did.

Beacon High School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Professional Performing Arts are among the selective schools that have been assigned special needs students outside the regular admissions process, school officials said; Frank Sinatra High School and Talented Unlimited were among the selective schools that have been assigned general education students as well. 

In all, the Department of Education has assigned students not chosen by the schools to about 70 different screened programs for the 2013-14 academic year, said Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy. Sternberg said most of these programs were assigned special needs children; a few schools with unfilled seats were also assigned general education students. In a follow-up story, the New York Post reported: "about 960 general-ed kids and 300 special-ed students were assigned," to 71 schools. 

This policy is part of an effort to give children with disabilities more access to demanding academic and arts programs and to ensure that screened schools get the "right number" of students, said Sternberg. 

“This is about equity and access,” Sternberg said in a telephone interview. “We want to make sure that all students across the spectrum have access to these very fine schools.”  

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Monday, 22 April 2013 10:23

8th grader gives low marks to ELA exam

Last week students in grades 3-8 sat for state standardized reading exams that were longer and harder than in previous years and, for the first time, aligned with the Common Core reform. Some students even ended up in tears, teachers said. This week, the same students are bracing for three days of math exams: Wednesday-Friday. An 8th-grader (who wishes to remain anonymous) from the Center School in Manhattan reflects on his testing experience last week and gives it -- and his performance -- low marks. Here's his report.

Because our principal has so much faith in her students, we all approach standardized tests without worry. I went into this one thinking it would be just like all the others I have taken -- not too hard. It turned out, on the whole, to be harder than it has been. It wasn't unbearable for me, even though I barely had enough time to complete some sections. The stories were quite long. Many were two pages, some three. I had to constantly look back, to reread several times, and that took time. A lot of the answers seemed to be equally valid and [based on] somebody's opinion, not fact.

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Thursday, 11 April 2013 15:28

Walcott: Turn down the exam pressure

On the eve of next week's state ELA exams for grades 3-8, Chancellor Walcott is urging principals to "turn the pressure down" on teachers in the wake of "heightened anxiety" about this year's high stakes tests.

Walcott and State Ed Commissioner John King have been saying that the 2013 state tests will be more difficult to pass because for the first time they are aligned with the new Common Core standards which many schools have just began to implement. Some teachers say they have not had adequate curricula and learning materials to prepare for the new standards.

In his weekly letter to principals, Walcott acknowledged the anxiety surrounding the upcoming ELA and math exams. He writes: "...a natural reaction would be to turn the heat up on your teachers, who tend to respond by turning the heat up on their students," he writes. "Instead, to the greatest extent you can, I’m asking you and your team to do the opposite, and turn the pressure down."

Even with the expected drop in student scores, "roughly the same number of students will attend summer school as in previous years," he said . "And teacher evaluation and school accountability will adjust accordingly so no one is punished by the change in assessments."

Earlier this week, Walcott visited Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn with King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, to see how that school was implementing the Common Core. He praised the leadership for "cultivating a caring culture" that other principals should follow.

See the full text of his letter after the jump.

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Tuesday, 09 April 2013 10:45

Ask Judy: How to prepare for 9th grade?

Dear Judy: My son was accepted to Beacon High School. He is very happy and is already making plans as to what he will do at the new school.  I don't come from the U.S. and my question is:  Is it a good school? How can I help him prepare for his first year? He doesn't know yet what profession he wants to pursue when he goes to college. 

Spanish-speaking dad

Dear Dad:

I am glad to hear that your son is pleased with his high school placement. Beacon is a very good school and it will prepare him well for university studies. Universities in the United States do not require students to choose what they will focus on until they are well into the second year of the four years they will spend there. High school years can be used for exploring many subjects and possible careers. That's why, to graduate, students must earn 44 credits for academic courses in math, science, social studies, English, a non-English language, art, music and physical education. Beacon is a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, and, as such students are exempt from taking most state exams called Regents. Instead, course credits are based on detailed projects called portfolios which students present to their teachers and peers.

Beacon graduation requirements are online. You can compare these to the city's Department of Education requirements listed on the website. And, when the time comes, there is a very helpful guide to preparing your child for college: Your Children Can Go to College...Yes They Can!" [PDF] which was developed by the New York Immigration Coalition. It's available in English and Spanish.

But, right now, turn your attention to helping your child prepare for entering 9th grade in September. Like many city high schools, Beacon will have a summer orientation, where your son will visit the school, get any summer assignments and suggestions as to how to prepare for 9th grade. There may be a reading or writing assignment. There he will also meet other 9th graders. If your son is to travel to school via public transportation, help him learn the route and practice the trip. He should time the door to door travel during early morning --when getting there on time is so important. The school may be able to help you get in touch with other students traveling from your neighborhood.

Finally, as summer winds down, try encourage him to follow a sleep schedule that he will need to arrive at school ready to learn.

Good luck to your son for a great high school experience.

Judy

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013 11:21

Top 10 tips for choosing a charter school

If you’re unhappy with your neighborhood school, you may want to enter a lottery for a charter school. The deadline is April 1--so hurry. In most cases you can submit an application online. Get an application on the New York City Charter School Center website, on the individual schools' websites or at the school. (Some charter schools are open this week, even though the public schools are on Spring break.)

But which school? Here are tips for making your choice.

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