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Lower East Side parents are up-in-arms about the proposed expansion of the Girls Preparatory Charter School. The school is requesting more space to house a growing middle school population -- 50 5th-graders were turned away last year due to lack of space. Neighborhood parents worry that an expansion will exacerbate overcrowding issues in District 1, where many schools currently share buildings.

Last Wednesday, parents, students, and educators packed into PS 20 to discuss the Department of Education's plans for expanding Girls Prep, as reported by the new Manhattan local news site, "You see how crowded and hot it is in here?" Marilyn Roberts, a PS 20 parent asked at the meeting of the district's Community Education Council. "That’s how our children are going to feel. [Expansion] is a short term solution and a long term disaster."

Girls Prep shares space with PS 188 and PS 94, a special education school for autistic kids. Expanding the school would affect other schools in the district as well, parents say.

The DOE proposed out three options:

  1. Move PS 94 out of the district, freeing up space
  2. Open the Girls Prep middle school in the building that currently houses Marta Valle Secondary School, the new and still-growing School for Global Leaders, and the Lower East Side Preparatory High School
  3. House Girls Prep middle school in the PS 20 building

Outgoing Lower East Side City Councilman Alan Gerson was in attendance. "This is no way to run a school system," he said. "We are not going to pit school against school, child against child."

The DOE is accepting community feedback on the proposals until Dec. 10. You can e-mail your comments to, fax to 212-374-5581, or send a letter to:

Debra Kurshan, Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY, 10007

The tensions surrounding school utilization and charter school expansion exist in most of New York City's 32 school districts. To learn more about charter school expansion and space utilization in your district, visit the DOE's Charter Notifications site and attend your local Community Education Council meetings. All hearings are open to the public.

Ed Litvak of the Lower East Side's community news site, The Lo-Down, was on hand to capture the views of neighborhood parents.

Friday, 20 November 2009 11:19

Mid-year budget cuts looming

In October, Governor Paterson proposed $686 million in school budget cuts. Democratic Senate Leader John Sampson stated yesterday that these cuts "are not going to happen." The official decision is still pending, but the vote is in process and may be settled as early as Monday evening.

Paterson's budget office projects a deficit for the remainder of the current fiscal year of $4.1 billion, with deficits of $7.8 billion and $15.7 billion over the following two. Citing these dire economic straits, his plan calls for major cuts in education, as well as healthcare spending. "I will mortgage my political career on this plan," he told a joint session of the Legislature on Nov. 9th.

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) is urging New Yorkers to ask their representatives to oppose these cuts. AQE's Executive Director Billy Easton told the New York Times that “school aid has to be off limits because of the constitutional obligations that are going unmet.”

You can contact your representative at

A new batch of future-kindergartners will be "turning 5" soon, and the Department of Education is preparing for their arrival. The kindergarten admissions season is set to begin Feb. 1 for children who will turn five in 2010. The pre-K admissions season will open a month later, on March 1 according to the DOE's timeline. Eligible students are those will turn four by Dec. 31, 2010.

Turning 5 Fairs  for children with special needs will begin on Nov. 30. Taking place across the city, these events acquaint parents with the public school special education admissions process. The 2009-2010 guide for "Preschool to School Age Orientation" will be available soon on the DOE's Special Education website.

In January, a handful of schools in District 75, which serves only disabled students, will hold open houses and tours.

Many public schools are already scheduling tours and open houses for prospective parents. For dates, it's best to check the school's website or call the parent coordinator.

Uncertain of what is your zoned school? Visit the DOE's School & Zone Finder or call 311. Looking for another option? Search for "unzoned"  or "charter" schools in the Insideschools Find a School section.

The "Race to the Top" dominated this week's education headlines, but left a lot of us wondering, "who's racing and to where?"

Basically, states will "race" to create comprehensive education reform plans, in hopes of earning a chunk of 4.35 billion government dollars to support their efforts. The program was established by the Obama administration under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- an expansive piece of legislation aimed at stimulating the economy, creating new jobs, and supporting industries critical to our nation's prosperity.

"We will award grants to the states that have led the way in reform and will show the way for the rest of the country to follow," said U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, in a Nov. 12 press release.To apply for Race to the Top funds, states must submit plans based on four areas of reform: college and career preparation, data analysis for measuring student progress, recruiting skilled teachers, and improving under-achieving schools.

States earn points by meeting a comprehensive list of qualifications. A perfect score is 500 points, with certain point values assigned to different reforms. For example, New York State can earn up to 125 points for drafting a solid agenda for change, 138 points for recruiting quality teachers, and so on. But New York could miss out on 40 points because the state has a cap on creating new charter schools.

These standards are already forcing a number of states to reform educational policies. Duncan acknowledged this in an interview with the Associated Press: "States have been doing some things to get in the ballpark," he said, "Now states have to think about how they win."

New York is still working to get in the game, but officials say the state will be fully eligible. Initial concerns arose over a state law that prohibits principals from utilizing student data in making teacher tenure decisions. However, the bill will sunset before applications are due.

Applications are due in January and June of 2010. Winners will be announced in April and September. New York, along with three other large states, has been urged to create a budget of up to $700 million. The race is on.

Last week, our student blogger, Toni, urged New York City residents to get out and protest the bake sale ban. Well, tomorrow is your chance!

At 3 p.m., concerned citizens will gather in front of City Hall to let regulators know that axing bake sales means axing an important means of raising funds for student activities. And what better way to support bake sales then to throw one? Baked treats will be traded for petition signatures from 3 to 5:30 p.m.

If you can't make it out, organizers are urging supporters to gather signatures on their own. Once 10,000 are collected, they plan to enlist the support of city council members. "By then nothing can stop us," reads the group's Facebook page.

You can also message Chancellor Joel Klein directly to voice your frustration with the ban, or show your support.

Our recent poll on the ban showed that users are somewhat divided on this issue -- some think that parents and students can  come up with healthier ways to raise funds. However, the overwhelming majority of the voters,  72%, opposed the ban.

We've heard that some schools (no names or numbers revealed) have ignored the regulation.

What's happening at your school?

In conjunction with the release of the new movie  "Precious," NY1  featured the work of Insideschools' parent organization, Advocates for Children. The film follows a 16-year-old Harlem student through her struggles with illiteracy, obesity, and a  broken home. Although the character is fictional, her problems are only too common among children in New York City schools. Cheryl Wills, a NY1 reporter spoke to several of AFC's lawyers and advocates about the work the organization does to ensure that children like Precious receive the educational services they need. The reporter also interviewed students, clients of AFC, who were "falling through the cracks" until AFC advocates helped find schools and programs to get them back on track.

View the feature on the NY1 website. Kudos to AFC!

Friday, 06 November 2009 08:05

Poll: The future of public education in NYC?

after-school-poll.bmpThere's some great news in this week's poll: a majority -- 43 percent -- of your schools offer high-quality, after-school programs!

However, 25 percent of you feel your school's programs need improvement, and 23 percent don't even have a school-based program. These figures are aligned with the results of Afterschool Alliance's recent survey, America After 3pm, which found that one-quarter of American students are without much-needed after-school activities.

As we're all now aware, Mayor Bloomberg will retain his mayoral seat for a third term. Following this week's elections, we'd love to know how you feel about the future of the New York City educational system. Vote now!

h1n1-poll.bmpIn our last poll, we asked if you planned to vaccinate your child against the H1N1 virus. More than 1,000 of you responded. Thirty-four percent said 'yes;' 46 percent said 'no.' And with the flurry of controversy surrounding the vaccinations, it came as no surprise that 18 percent of you are still on the fence.

The New York Times echoed these sentiments, reporting that fewer than 50 percent of New York City parents have granted schools permission to vaccinate their kids. Vaccinations began this week at small elementary schools and will begin on Nov. 4 and 9 at larger schools. The city's weekend clinics for middle and high school students will also open in early November.

The Times also weighed in on after-school programs in an editorial titled, "Home Alone." Citing Afterschool Alliance's recent study, America After 3PM, the editorial points out that after-school participation has increased markedly since 2004, but not fast enough to keep up with the growing number of "latch-key kids"-- estimated at nearly one quarter of our nation's students.

The study also found that more than 18 million parents would enroll their children in after-school programs if they were available.

In this week's poll, we'd like to know if your child's school offers an after-school program. Vote now!

How well does it serve your children? How could the program be improved? Let us know in the comments.

Flu vaccinations begin at 125 New York City elementary schools today. The vaccines arrive with news that older students will once again receive priority at the city's weekend clinics.

This overturns the Health Department's announcement yesterday that these clinics would welcome all New York City residents and not just students. Middle and high school students are entitled to vaccinations at designated sites--which are slated to open in early November. Other members of the public will be evaluated, but only those considered "at-risk" will receive treatment.

Health Department spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti told the Daily News that the sites giving priority to students will redirect the public to other vaccination centers. She reiterated that the best place to receive a vaccination is from one's primary-care doctor.

Is your elementary, middle, or high school child going to be vaccinated? Take our poll!

The Department of Education announced that vaccines for the H1N1 and seasonal flu viruses will arrive at elementary schools with fewer than 400 students on Wednesday, Oct. 28. Larger elementary schools will receive the vaccines a week later on Wednesday, Nov. 4. Vaccinations will be available to middle and high school students on weekends at off-campus sites in early November.

Although vaccinations are not mandatory for public school students, the DOE recommends that all children between the ages of six and 19 be vaccinated. Children under 10 receive two doses, administered in schools, four weeks apart.

Students must present consent forms signed by a parent or guardian. These will be sent home with students next week. They are also available online through the DOE's Influenza Information website.

Families of elementary students should return these forms to their school; middle and high school students should bring them to the off-campus locations where they will be vaccinated at the time of vaccination.

The DOE will continue to release information on this season's flu and student vaccinations at

Is your child going to be vaccinated? Take our poll and let us know why or why not! Vote now!

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