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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.
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.
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."
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.
If the Common Core were a person, I think we could be friends. I’d call her CeeCee and take her out for a drink. She needs it. I imagine CeeCee sobbing on my shoulder, saying something like, “I’m just trying to give all our kids a fair shot. Really I am!” Poor CeeCee. She means well and I think she got a lot more right than anyone is willing to admit, but we’re all just having too much fun hating on her.
It’s all the rage to bash Common Core these days. People see the standards, not as a well-meaning mom like I do, but as a thug with a gun in a dark alley shouting, “Make those kids read developmentally inappropriate texts or you’ll be sorry!” A Siena poll cited by Capital New York in mid-January found that 49 percent of New Yorkers statewide think Common Core implementation should be stopped. Not amended, just stopped. I’m left wondering how many of those voters can actually explain what Common Core is.
In New York City, the standards have become a convenient scapegoat for an education system plagued by big problems. Drastic economic inequality, uneven teaching and mass confusion about pretty much any directive handed down by the Department of Education all serve to create a broken education system. Common Core was intended as a long-term, partial solution to schools that vary widely in quality. If all kids are held to the same grade-by-grade expectations, the logic goes, we’ll be five steps closer to making sure all kids who receive a NYC education receive not just a comparable one, but also a great one.
I wasn't too happy in September when I found out my son's 1st-grade teachers have no email. The only other person in my life I can't email is my landlord, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to hear from me.
Last year in kindergarten, Noodle's 26-year veteran teacher had not only email, but a Twitter feed and Instagram account. So I was just plain confused when I read via a typed letter in my son's backpack on the first day of school that "all correspondence must be in written form." Huh? Like, with a pen?
At drop-off the next day, most parents' reactions were the same. "Notes get lost," one mom said, shaking her head. "When I write to the teacher, I want a record and I want it time-stamped." Another told a story of a former teacher who refused to receive emails from parents, but would on occasion email them when she needed something, like say, last-minute field-trip chaperones. "Why should parents have to function on a two-day time delay?" she asked.
Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The pumpkins are out, and sunscreen and sandals have given way to light jackets and boots. There’s no denying it: gifted and talented testing is upon us.
Two years ago, I documented my elder son’s attempt to penetrate the exciting, if somewhat notorious world of gifted and talented testing in New York City. Several Pearson debacles and rejection letters later, our son ended up happy and thriving at a wonderful neighborhood school. And although the G&T testing experience taught me a great deal and yielded a few laughs, I secretly vowed then that unless my youngest son was clearly a savant—say, reciting Chaucer and analyzing Bayesian statistics—I’d spare him the hours seated with strangers asking him weird questions.
My husband disagrees. In his opinion, “Delta Force”—my sweet little powerhouse of a 4-year-old—gets the shaft in everything. He wears his brother's old shoes and gets less attention, so how dare we deny him this opportunity. "And besides," he explained, "I want to know how smart he is."
When I first found out in June that my son’s elementary school would be ending 30 minutes earlier this year and I would have to pick up two children at the same time, ten blocks apart, my first thought, of course, was, “Yes! Now I can harness those superpowers of time travel I always knew I possessed!” Actually, just one word came into my head, and it's unprintable here.
Apparently I’m not alone. According to The Daily News, about 450 schools will be changing their start and end times this year in order to comply with the new UFT contract. In a nutshell, the contract does two things as far as the school day is concerned: First, it elmininates 37.5 minutes each day that teachers were previously devoting to small-group work and tutoring for students who were behind. Second, it reapportions that time for professional development, parent communication, preparing lessons and all the other behind-the-scenes work that teachers must complete but never have time for.
There are 22,000 kids living in homeless and domestic violence shelters in NYC, according to Volunteers for America. In addition to the trauma and chaos of a transient life, imagine the feeling of arriving for the first day of school in September, seeing all your friends toting shiny, full backpacks ready to learn, and you have ... nothing.
In 2001, Volunteers of America–Greater New York launched Operation Backpack—a fundraising initiative aimed at providing our city's neediest children with the supplies they need to start the school year right. By filling thousands of backpacks with grade-specific supplies, Operation Backpack relieves stressed families of an impossible financial burden, and most important, they help kids living on the fringes get a fighting chance at a solid education.
There are many ways to get involved. Visit the Operation Backpack website for a list of grade-specific supplies and backpack drop-off locations throughout the city. You can also make a straightforward monetary donation to the project, buy supplies for the foundation's amazon wishlist or donate your time in person. It's a wonderful opportunity to do something real and tangible for NYC education, and to show a struggling child you believe in her.