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Aimee Sabo

Aimee Sabo

Aimee Sabo blogs and edits reviews for Insideschools. She is a proud mother of two boys—one in public elementary school and the other on his way—and a graduate of Stanford University. A former editor for Time Out New York Magazine, she has also written for ForeWord Magazine, Time Out New York Kids and DailyCandy.com.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 10:38

Pre-k, Round 2: Apply by July 10

Everyone deserves a second chance. If you're not happy with your child's Round 1 pre-k placement, take heart: Round 2 of pre-k admissions is officially open, now through July 10, offering families dozens of new programs to choose from.

Even if you already received a pre-k offer, you can take advantage of Round 2 of the pre-k enrollment process. Round 2 is comprised mainly of new programs that were not listed in Round 1, as well as some sites that did not fill to capacity. The DOE will be adding more programs as they become available. (Check nyc.gov/prek for the latest updates.) As in Round 1, you can apply online, over the phone by calling 311 or in person at a Family Welcome Center. Applications can be updated right up until the July 10 deadline.

A quick look at the Department of Education's Pre-Kindergarten Round 2 Program List showed some interesting additions (and only one closure) with the majority of new programs in Queens. In Brooklyn, we noted 20 full-day seats at PS 112 Lefferts Park, an Insideschools pick and the subject of the 2005 documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom." In District 2, PS 51 Elias Howe and two new schools, PS 340 Sixth Avenue School and PS 343 The Peck Slip School, are housing pre-k centers. (In neighboring District 3, DNAinfo found that there are decidedly fewer options.)

The DOE's pre-k center programs are a central focus of the expansion this year. Exclusively dedicated to serving pre-k students, these free-standing programs are housed in existing schools or leased space and are run by DOE-appointed site coordinators who report to their district's director of early childhood education. All pre-k centers will host open houses in August when families who have been accepted can tour the program, meet staff and register their children, according to the DOE.

Yes, August feels far away. Many parents will be taking a leap of faith this year one way or another, and it's not an easy thing to do when it comes to your child's education. What do you do when you can't tour the school, the program is new and untested, or you are placed in a "failing school"? Aside from reading our reviews when applicable, talking with other parents, and attending any summer open houses, there aren't easy answers. But when it comes to pre-k, it's important to remember that some of the usual rules don't apply. Some things to keep in mind:

1. A failing (or mediocre) school doesn't necessarily mean a failing pre-k. If you're a dedicated Insideschools reader you've gotten used to looking at school surveys, attendance numbers and even test scores. We can tell you from years of combined experience that in many otherwise troubled or so-so schools, pre-k can often be an oasis of skilled teachers, sweet kids and thoughtful programming. Take PS 48 in the Bronx or PS 120 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example. PS 48 has struggled with test scores and discipline in the older grades, but it also has a strong pre-k program in a separate learning annex that our reviewer described as "adorable." At PS 120, where test scores have been low, the pre-k classes we saw had an undeniable spark that was lacking in the upper grades. If you can, take your time to find hidden gems like these. 

2. Pre-k for all doesn't mean pre-k down the block. Who doesn't want to take a leisurely stroll around the corner with their 4-year-old to the best pre-k in the city? We all do, but sometimes you may need to take a train or a bus instead. The city has rolled out an impressive number of programs this year, but mostly where space was available, not where need was highest. Decide on your priorities, and if quality trumps proximity, you may want to open your eyes to great programs further away. 

3. And remember, those wait lists move. As we've said before, you can apply to Round 2 and still remain on a wait list for all the schools you listed above the school your child was assigned to in Round 1. Even as you move forward with other options, an old favorite choice could surprise you with a spot. Stay patient.

Round 2 decision letters will be sent out in early-August. Families will need to pre-register in person with their child and required paperwork by mid-August. In the meantime, good luck and let us know how the process is working for you!

“I learn so much that I can’t even stop,” says a giddy 4-year-old in a promotional video just released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. “There are no monsters here. It’s not scary,” explains another. “Maybe if you try school, you might like it.”

This year, more NYC families than ever before seem willing to try pre-kindergarten, and, for the first time, they are guaranteed a seat in a full-day program. About 70,000 children will attend free, universal pre-kindergarten this fall, a majority at their parents’ top choice program. The city reported that 70 percent of families received pre-k offers to their first choice school, and 82 percent got one of their top three. Many families are willing to travel, with 16 percent choosing a site outside their district as their first choice. Early childhood centers and public school programs seemed equally sought-after: Half the applicants listed an early childhood center first on their application; the other half listed a public school, according to the Department of Education

If you’re a policymaker, things are looking pretty good. Larger issues aside—like increasing and measuring diversity, say, or creating permanent and suitable pre-k spaces—the improvement in enrollment numbers seems like the just reward of this year’s more streamlined registration process and the DOE’s massive outreach effort. But what if you’re one of the families whom the stats didn’t favor?

With all of the hoopla that accompanies G&T testing for rising kindergartners every spring, it’s easy to forget that there are opportunities for older elementary school students too. If you have a rising 4th- or 5th-grader who is ready for more of an academic challenge, this Friday, May 22 is the last day to apply for a gifted and talented program for fall 2015.

Unlike applications for the younger grades, the RFP (request for placement) for 4th- and 5th-graders must be made in person at a Family Welcome Center. There is no special test; instead a student’s eligibility is based on three main factors, all weighed equally:

1.         The 2015 NYS English language arts and math exam scores
2.         2015 report card grades
3.         A form, "Descriptors of Exceptional Characteristics,” filled out by the child’s teacher

After you submit an RFP for your child, the Department of Education will collect all the information including test scores, grades and teacher recommendations and will notify families of their child’s eligibility in late summer. Student’s who qualify will receive an application to submit, along with a list of all G&T programs with seats available for 4th- and 5th-graders. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015 21:21

UPK report asks: Where's the diversity?

Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a chord with New Yorkers when he first spoke of universal pre-kindergarten as a means to end the “tale of two cities” that divides our highest and lowest wage earners. Classroom diversity was billed as an integral part of that vision, building on research that middle-class and low-income students in economically integrated classrooms see more academic and social gains. However, a lack of reliable data and the sense that pre-k remains just as economically divided as many elementary schools has led many critics to attack the city for not making good on that promise.

A new report by Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation—a non-partisan social policy research institute—takes an in-depth look at UPK’s progress, focusing specifically on the goal of classroom diversity and what we need to do to get there. 

"The de Blasio administration has pulled off a remarkable feat in expanding free, full-day universal pre-K to roughly 70,000 children by this fall, while also bringing much needed attention to the value of socioeconomic and racial diversity in preschool classrooms,” Potter wrote Insideschools via email. "But there's still much more that the administration can and should do to open opportunities for integrated universal pre-k classrooms, including collecting better demographic data and revising admissions preferences to support diversity."

The Department of Education is churning out the offers. Last Monday, families began receiving their G&T results, and a week later, kindergarten acceptances are in. This year, 67,907 students applied to kindergarten before the Feb. 13 deadline and more than 72 percent received their first choice, compared to 71 percent last year, according to the DOE. Another 12 percent received one of their top three choices. Families applied to up to 20 schools using an online application.

About 10 percent of applicants— 6,838 families—didn’t receive offers to any of the schools listed on their application. Some received offers to their zoned school, the DOE said, even though they didn't list it. In the three districts where there are no zoned schools, and in overcrowded areas where applicants were edged out of their zoned schools, students were offered slots in another district school.

Families must contact the school directly to make an appointment to pre-register by May 6. Pre-registering does not prevent families from receiving an offer at a school where they are waitlisted, applied for a gifted and talented program or entered a charter school lottery. Families will automatically remain on a waitlist for schools they listed higher on their application than the school to which they were matched.

The call to action is different for every parent. For Naila Rosario of District 15 it was overcrowding and a lack of pre-k that led her to run for a Community Education Council seat four years ago. For Deborah Alexander of District 30, it was attending her first CEC meeting as a kindergarten mom and seeing parents fight on behalf of families whose needs were very different from their own.

“I was blown away by that kind of selflessness and commitment to a broader cause,” Alexander said. “When it was over I wanted to do the same. Then when you get in you see how tricky it is.”

Talk to any CEC member and you’ll hear that educational advocacy in New York City is much like parenting itself: fulfilling but frustrating. “It’s a lot of work,” said Alexander. “It’s daily emails and phone calls. That’s one thing parents don’t realize.” Add to that, election process glitches (at press time the DOE had only posted 95 percent of applicant profiles online more than a week after the application deadline), strict voting laws (only three PTA officers from each school can actually vote for district CEC reps) and a lack of real legislative power on many issues, and it’s enough to thwart even the most well-meaning of parents.

It seems the blocks are stacked in Mayor de Blasio's favor. One day into the pre-k enrollment process, nearly 22,000 families had applied, up from 6,500 in the first day last year. By the end of the first week, some 37,000 families had signed up, according to the Daily News. If the mayor gets his wish, the city will serve 70,000 pre-k students in fall 2015. 

Last year, the mayor's fast-paced citywide rollout of more than 53,000 pre-k seats was unprecedented and largely successful, although the timing and logistics were far from headache-free. Some popular schools had far more applicants than seats available, while others remained under-enrolled, and parents had to navigate separate application systems for district schools and early education centers.

Although inconsistencies may persist around the city, this year promises some relief with a (mostly) single application. If you have a child born in 2011, you can apply online, by phone at 718-935-2067 or in person at a family welcome center now through Friday, April 24. You may list up to 12 pre-k programs including district schools and full-day New York City Early Education Centers (NYCEECs). Those interested in charter schools or half-day programs at a NYCEEC, however, should still contact the program directly. 

It ain’t over yet. The Department of Education extended the deadline for parents to apply for a seat in their district or citywide Community Education Council through the end of today. After years of voting snafus, difficulty attracting members and claims of CEC ineffectiveness, the DOE power players seem ready to start anew—and they want parents to know it. Jesse Mojica, executive director of the Department of Education’s Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) answered several questions via email about the CEC application process and emphasized Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s commitment to give the parent-led councils a stronger voice in education policy. Here's what he had to say.

Q: Which districts are particularly in need of more applicants?

A: Our unprecedented outreach efforts have resulted in at least one applicant for every council seat within a shorter time frame than in previous campaigns. We would like to have at least two candidates for every available seat in every council; we are still short of that goal in Districts 16, 17, 18, 23, 26, 28, 32 and Staten Island High Schools.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015 12:39

Fariña urges parents to run for CECs

Zoning, space-sharing, charters—think you have no say? Since 2004, Community Education Councils (CECs) have offered New York City parents a voice in shaping school policies in their districts and addressing community concerns. Today, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged parents across the city to run for an Education Council seat and take a direct role in the education of their children.

“Education Councils make important contributions to their communities and I want to encourage parents across the city to apply for a seat,” the chancellor said in a Department of Education press release. “We need strong CECs in every district and citywide.”

While few dispute CECs' influence on zoning these days, many of the councils' other roles are advisory and have historically been dependent on how much the mayor and schools chancellor were willing to listen. Laurie Windsor, president of CEC District 20, says things are changing. "It was more difficult with the prior administration," she said. "Parents now are more hopeful than in the past about our place at the table with the DOE."

Wednesday, 11 February 2015 09:53

How I learned to (sort of) love fuzzy math

Like many NYC parents, I was mad at the Common Core math my 1st-grader was bringing home. He is still learning to read Pete the Cat, so damn you, Common Core, why are you giving him word problems?

But after some digging—talking with reading specialists, math specialists, and frankly, doing more math with my son—I realized that word problems help kids think, if they're done right.

“I think all math should be taught in word problems,” Jodi Friedman, assistant principal and math coach at STAR Academy-PS 63, told me when I visited last week. “You have 12 snacks and three kids. How do you share them? Kids can understand that concept even if they're not doing ‘division.’”

At this small school with a large number of low-income families, teachers use drawings, objects, and role play to help kids learn math—even before they can read well.

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