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Laura Zingmond

Laura Zingmond

For eighth-graders and their families who are logging hours pouring over the high school directory, reading school profiles, following the High School Hustle, and trekking all over the city to attend open houses and tours, decision time is here. High school applications are due on Dec. 3 -- and some schools are asking for them even earlier!

Here's are some do's and don't about  filling out the application.

  • Do be very careful when drawing up your list of (up to) 12 high school choices. You don't have to fill in all the slots. Don't list a school you are not willing to attend.  If you get assigned to a school you hate, but listed it on your application, it will be very hard to get placed elsewhere.
  • Do rank your favorite school first.  There's no need to play guessing games or set up an elaborate strategy. Schools  cannot  see which students rank them first, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ranking your top choice number one.
  • Don't apply to a school for which you do not qualify. Say you want to apply to a school that accepts only Manhattan residents and you live in Queens — you are wasting a spot on your list if you put it down. Likewise, if a school looks for students with a minimum 85 average or above and your GPA is 70, your chances of getting accepted are slim to none.
  • Do keep a copy of your completed application and get a receipt from your guidance counselor when you hand it in.  Review the Department of Education’s high school application checklist.

What else should you consider?

  • What are the admissions criteria? Some schools require an interview, an essay, or the submission of school work. Make sure you meet all admissions criteria listed in the high school directory.  If you just realized that a school you like requires an interview or exam, contact the school immediately to make sure it’s not too late to meet those requirements.
  • Small school or large? Small schools offer more personal attention and a sense of community. Teachers get to know students well making it harder for any to slip through the cracks.  Large schools tend to have more sports teams, clubs, and courses; more foreign language options, honors and Advanced Placement classes and a range of class settings for kids learning to speak English and students with special needs.
  • Fast-track or laid-back? Some schools pile on the homework.  Other schools have a slower pace and encourage kids to relax a bit. There’s no right answer here. Think about what’s best for you. Will you thrive in a rigorous and competitive environment?  Or, are you more likely to learn and excel when the pressure's off?
  • New school or well-established? It’s nice to go to a school with a proven track record.  Most new small schools take a few years to establish guidance offices and to develop relationships with college admissions officers, so it can be a gamble to be in the first few graduating classes. However if you’re faced with the choice between an overcrowded, failing neighborhood school or a new untested small school, in general, our advice is go with the small one, if you feel comfortable with the theme and the leadership.
  • Theme school or well-rounded curriculum? This may sound obvious, but don’t go to a theme school if you’re not interested in the theme. If you’re not passionate about the arts, don’t go to a performing arts school.  Be aware that  some of the themes exist in name only. The academics should be solid, whatever the theme.
  • How long is the commute? Take a subway (or bus) ride to your preferred school(s) to see if the commute is doable. Think about what it will be like in the rain and snow, or coming home late in the evening after a sports event or a school play. Far too many students discover after a few days of school that they can’t handle a long commute.
  • Does your child have special needs? Check out the Department of Education’s guide for high school students receiving special education services.

Tips for students

  • Make sure your parent signs off on your application before handing it in.  Don’t allow anyone to pressure you into listing a school you don’t want to attend. The guidance counselor shouldn't persuade you to add choices without consulting your parent.
  • The more choices you rank, the better your chances of being matched to a school. But, don't list 12 schools if there aren't 12 you want to attend.
  • Many large schools offer several programs. If you really want to attend a certain school, apply to more than one program.
  • If you have a zoned school, it will be printed on your application. (Manhattan does not have any zoned schools, Staten Island does, as do parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens). You are not guaranteed acceptance there unless you list it on your application. Likewise if you are a "top two-percenter" which counts when applying to educational option schools, this is noted on your application.
  • What if you and your parents disagree? We think parents should be involved in the selection, but in the end you’re the one who has to go to the school. Try to talk it through with your parents until everyone is in agreement.
  • Don’t let your friends choose for you.   No school can accept every qualified student, so it’s likely that friends will attend different high schools.  Trust that you will make new friends in high school, whether or not you go with friends from middle school.

More new schools for 2011

Not sure you’ve found a school that’s a good fit?  Consider one of the new schools slated to open in September 2011.  The DOE typically announces them in February and hosts school fairs where you can meet with representatives from each new school.  Check our calendar and the Department of Education’s website for updates. And, if you feel you may have made a mistake on your application, or you change your mind, this will be your window of opportunity to change your application.

Thursday, 28 October 2010 10:47

Advocates say: Keep local diplomas for now

Without the option of a local diploma many students won't graduate at all, according to a report released today by Advocates for Children (AFC).  More than a Statistic: Faces of the Local Diploma, chronicles nine high school graduates' pathways to college and careers taken after earning a local diploma. A local diploma has less stringent requirements than a Regents diploma and is being phased out for both general and special education students.

In 2009, roughly 15 percent of statewide graduates earned a local diploma.  A disproportionate number of them were Black and Latino students, English language learners, and students with special needs.

"The paper calls on officials to remember the needs of this group of students and develop alternative pathways to earn a regular high school diploma in the State," said AFC Director, Kim Sweet.  “No matter what you think of the local diploma, it does in fact have value as a credential that makes opportunities available to the students who receive it, ” Sweet stated in a press release.

Under the state's  new requirement, general education students entering ninth grade in 2008  or later, and special education students entering 9th grade in 2011 or later, will have to meet the standards of a Regents diploma to graduate.

“Ultimately, we would like to see all students have a pathway to a Regents diploma,” said Sweet. “but merely removing the option of the local diploma is not enough to move all students to the point of meeting the more demanding Regents diploma requirements."

Read AFC's press release here and the full report here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010 13:05

Schools won't have to pay to stay open late

The New York City Department of Education backtracked on a new policy that would have charged schools for using their facilities after 6 p.m.  Principals were told of the policy in their weekly newsletter from Chancellor Klein.

"Effective now, schools are not financially responsible for the extended use of school buildings during this school year.... Schools will be accountable for ensuring that all extended use permit requests reflect actual building use in order to maximize efficiencies,"  the letter states.

The DOE decided to rescind the new policy "to monitor data to promote efficiency in the funds expended for extended use permits," said Marge Feinberg, a DOE spokesperson.

In past years, schools were allowed unlimited use of their facilities for school- related events.  Over the summer, principals were told that they would have to pay $400 for each hour of building use beyond the regular instructional day of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Each school was allotted a set amount, separate from their regular school budget, to spend on extended day building use for 2010-11.

"The allocation wasn't enough to cover everything."  one principal told Insideschools. "Principals were going to be very reluctant to approve after hour activities because they didn't want to run out of money and then tap into their regular budget."

For some schools, especially large high schools that offer many teams, clubs, and after hours tutoring, the bills would have mounted quickly.  Stuyvesant High School received  $130,000.00 to cover extended day building use in 2010-11.  But at a cost of $2000 a week to keep its building open one extra hour a day -- far less than  typical for large schools  -- Stuyvesant would have plowed through its entire allotment less than halfway through the school year.

Despite the DOE's decision, the City Council’s committees on Education and Youth Services and Public Housing plan to go ahead with a joint hearing on public school building use on Friday.

"It's not clear whether the DOE plans to institute the [extended hour] fees in the future," said Jan Atwell, policy analyst for the Council's Committee on Education. "We still need to ask them how much they're looking to gain from the policy and what's its impact.  Some schools, like La Guardia could be disproportionately impacted."

Tuesday, 05 October 2010 08:12

Admissions update: Middle schools & G&T

Eighth graders applying to high schools aren't the only ones who should be mindful of the admissions calendar.  Important dates are looming for students applying to middle schools and G&T programs for the 2011-12 school year.  Here's the rundown for what you'll need to know for the upcoming weeks.

Middle schools

Most districts offer some degree of middle school choice, even in areas where the majority of students attend their zoned school.  Some districts, however, offer a full-choice model offering students few or no zoned school options.  In those districts, students must apply to in-district middle schools by ranking their choices on a middle school application.

According to the Department of Education's admissions calendar, middle school directories will be distributed to elementary school students during the week of October 4. They will also be available online. Friday, October 8 is the deadline for students to request to take the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) for admission to selective schools in districts 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 30 as well as to request testing for admission to District 21's Mark Twain School, which is open citywide.

Beginning October 12, the Department of Education will hold middle school fairs in each district that offers school choice.  All fairs will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.  Check the DOE's website for the date and location of the middle school fair in your district.

While fairs are a great way for parents and students to meet with school representatives and to ask questions, they are no substitute for attending a school tour or open house.  Check schools'  websites, or call schools to find out about their tour and open house schedule. Use our advanced search to access school profiles for contact information.  Wondering what questions to ask when you visit? See our tips on what to ask on a school tour. Also check out the DOE's list of Fall 2010 middle school tour and open house dates.

For a full rundown of important middle school admissions dates, check out the DOE's calendar here.

Gifted & Talented Admissions

The Gifted and Talented Information Handbook for students entering kindergarten through grade 2 in September 2011 will be available on the DOE's website beginning October 12.

To schedule a testing date, parents will need to submit a Request for Testing Form (RFT) anytime from October 12 through November 17.

Insideschools reported back in June that 2010-11 may be the last school year that students applying to G&T programs will be evaluated based on their combined performance on the  Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA).  The DOE is planning to employ a new G&T admissions test once their current contracts with testing companies end in 2011.

With all the recent news coverage on Progress Reports, which rely heavily on test scores,  it's easy to lose sight of  everything that goes into the making of a successful school, and how budget cuts could be affecting this year's students.

In our last poll we asked what area needs the MOST improvement at your school.  The results weren't even close -- for 37 percent of  our voters, class size is the biggest concern.

Arts education and teaching were the next biggest concerns, garnering 18 and 19 percent of the votes.  Another 12 percent of voters felt that lackluster parent involvement needs improving.

And, in a school year that started with a rally in support of the Student Safety Act, some 11 percent of you felt that safety was the biggest concern.

If you're not already in the throes of a high school search for your 8th-grader, now is the time to kick into high gear.

The Department of Education Enrollment Office is hosting two parent workshops about specialized high schools admissions this week:  tonight, September 27 at Sunset Park High School and Wednesday, September 29 at Stuyvesant High School, from 6:30-8 p.m.

On October 12, the DOE will begin another series of general high school admissions workshops with evening events in every borough.  See the flyer with dates and locations here.

If you missed the summer workshop series about applying to different types of high schools, read the handouts here (you'll have to scroll down a bit).

High school tours and open hours

Break out your calendars (and consider asking your boss for time off) because many high schools have posted their open house and tour dates on their websites.  Some schools require families to register for  limited tour spots,  so it's best to sign up early.

If you haven't done so already,  clear some time this week to check schools' websites about dates and times for tours.  Use our advanced search to access school profiles for contact information.

Specialized high school tours start soon

All eight specialized high schools that admit students based on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) have announced the dates for  open houses and tours.  LaGuardia High School, the specialized arts high school, will not have an open house this fall, but will host one in February for accepted students only, according to the school's website.

With the main testing dates for 8th graders only a month away -- on October 23 and 24 --  the open house and tour dates  start next week.  Here's a full rundown:

Several of the schools require families to sign up for tours or open houses, so check each school's website, or contact them for details before showing up.

SHSAT registration deadline is October 6

Eighth graders who plan to take the SHSAT will need to register for the exam through their middle school guidance counselor.  If your child's  guidance counselor has not distributed information about the SHSAT already, contact the school this week. The deadline to register is October 6.  Guidance counselors will distribute admissions tickets on October 15.  Students will not be admitted to the testing center, or to auditions at LaGuardia, without a ticket.

Don't forget the citywide high school fair, with representatives from nearly every school in the city, will be held this weekend, Oct. 2-3, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Brooklyn Tech!

Borough high school fairs will be held the weekend of Oct. 16-17. See the schedule here.

For a full list of important dates and deadlines, check out the DOE's high school admissions calendar.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 09:45

Q&A: Meet Ojeda Hall

Ojeda Hall (pronounced “O zsey da”) took office as director of the Department of Education’s Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy on August 2, replacing Martine Guerrier, who left to become a senior policy advisory in the mayor’s office.

Born in Baltimore, Hall moved to Fort Greene, Brooklyn at the age of nine, where she attended PS 20 and Satellite West before enrolling in Brooklyn Friends, a private school. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Drew University Theological School, and is actively involved in the Bethany Baptist Church in Jamaica, Queens as a youth pastor, mentor, and teacher.

In his press release announcing her appointment, Chancellor Klein highlighted Hall's “experience working with troubled students and their families” through her work as a youth pastor and her job as a organizer with Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a regional affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) founded by Saul Alinsky in 1940.

This week Insideschools sat down with the new parent advocate at her office across the street from Tweed, for a wide-ranging conversation that lasted two hours.  See our Q&A with her after the jump.

Q.  What do you see as the primary goal of the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy (OFEA)?

A. My hope is that we can get parents to work around larger, systemic issues, but we do recognize that most issues are local and personal and a lot of people are compelled to get involved out of their own personal groundings for things.

We’re also going to put a lot of effort into identifying other community-based and faith-based organizations that support academic achievement. Some of the traditional spaces – CECs [Community Education Councils] and PTAs -- provided for parents might not always be the best places for parents to talk about things.  It takes a community to raise a school and we’re hoping to work within a partnership structure with really dynamic organizations within communities and then have listening sessions with parents who haven’t been heard from yet, like in Queens, which in the past 20 years has become an entirely different place with many new voices that don’t get heard.

Q.  Engagement and Advocacy are both in your title. What role does each play in your job?

A. We may change the name of the office because over the past few weeks I’ve done over 140 face-to-face interviews with leaders -- largely with people inside the DOE -- asking them what they think we should do as the office that engages parents. What has been very clear is that this office does not have a monopoly on engagement.  There’s all kinds of engagement happening and so I didn’t want to build a mission that’s uniquely about engagement because everyone’s doing it.

We want to help parents form entrepreneurial and innovative groups to get things done.  And these don’t have to be permanent, fixed, never-ending parent groups.  They can be ad-hoc, informal, issue-driven groups that want to do something and then take a rest, and then reorganize to do something else.  My hope is to help develop leaders in academic achievement who are passionate about things – moderate people who can work with others -  but we understand [they] may have some anger because they have a sense of what can be.

And that’s what organizing is about.  Organizers don’t come with an agenda.  Organizers come with the ability to act and get things done on issues that matter to the community.

Q.  Some parents have expressed concern that you’re not a parent, like your predecessor who was billed as the “Chief Mom.”

A. I’m hoping people are willing to suspend judgment for a while. Like the old adage, it takes a village to raise a child, I have been a part of  a lot of villages.  I’m not going to say that I have any clue what it takes to parent a child day in and day out.  But I have relevant experiences.  My job as a youth minister and leader in a church has taken me to hospital bedsides and principals’ offices at schools and guidance counselors offices and, unfortunately at times to detention centers and mediations in the criminal justice system. I have a background working as an organizer with traditional public schools, such as Frederick Douglas Academy [VII] and Teachers Prep in East Brooklyn, especially around safety.

Another experience is that my mom surprised me when I was 23 years old with a younger brother. He’s 16 and the privilege and responsibility and some of the grief of being a big sister to him has given me some connection to what parents go through.  We want safety for him and we set the highest expectations for him.

Q.  Why haven’t parents heard much from you since you took office in August?

A. My priority when I first took the position was to figure out how this place works for parents.  I can’t go out into the community and report to parents how to get answers without me knowing first.  So I had a very aggressive meeting schedule the first four weeks with people mainly internally to learn this.  About week four I started going to outside meetings and recently some schools and my schedule is now becoming much more external.

Q.  Who do you report to at the DOE?

A. Maura Keaney, the Executive Director of External Affairs, who reports to the chancellor.

Q.  How much latitude do you have to publicly disagree with Chancellor Klein or a particular decision made by the DOE?

A. I work for the DOE and I’m really clear about my identity there, so I’m not going to be public in criticizing the chancellor. But I do think we need to communicate things better and earlier and to listen better. We know where we made mistakes and I’m going to make every effort to do things better.

Q.  What falls under OFEA’s authority?

A. We’ve lost a little bit of ground, though it remains to be seen if that makes us more or less efficient.  We don’t oversee DFAs [District Family Advocates] – they now report to the Division of School Support. We do oversee CECs, PAs, PTAs, and have a significant role with the SLTs [School Leadership Teams].  And parent coordinators theoretically, but I’m sorting out what’s real about that...they report to principals.

Q.  You helped start a charter school in Queens, the Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School, which opened this month. What role did you play?

A. This administration asked IAF [Industrial Areas Foundation] if there were opportunities to do innovative schools models in our neighborhood.  The New Jerusalem Congregation, which had done a lot to support existing schools in the community, wanted another strategy too.  So one Sunday morning at the church a group of UFT educators spoke up and said that we’re not leaving the UFT, but we could envision something different and given the option we’d like to work on something.  So there were 18, middle class, educated, mostly African American women that had 180 years of experience among them that I worked with after school until 1 or 2 am and on weekends in the planning of the school.

Q.  Can charter school parents go to OFEA if they need help, even though charter schools are independent of the Department of Education?

A. Yes. It’s a myth that every charter school is working.  Many are, but the reality is that it’s a mix. There are some parents who have had frustrating experiences with charter schools.  A parent came into our office and we helped her begin the process of finding a more suitable place for her child.   So we’ll offer support for parents of charter schools even though charter schools don’t fall under the DOE.

Q.  What kinds of specific problems has OFEA been helping parents with so far this year?

A. Parents walk in all day with problems that we try to help solve.  So far we’ve been hearing a lot from parents that their child hasn’t received a placement in a school.  We’ve also had some complaints about special education students having problems with busing.   We have two leaders that have been working with parents and people within the DOE to coordinate solutions.  We’re also staffing up now to help even more with trouble-shooting specific parent problems.

Q. How is your office planning to encourage the involvement of immigrant parents and parents of kids with special needs?

A. We have a new Chief of Staff, Keishea Allen, who has the longest tenure in this office  and who has an extensive background in special education.  I’ve also  reached out to the Office of Immigrant Affairs for resumes.   We have some positions available and we’re trying to hire new staff keeping in mind the city’s demographic shifts.  I want our office to reflect the new New York City.

Q. What should parents do if they have a problem with their school and have exhausted all avenues within their school to get it solved?

A. Parents should go to their District Family Advocate.  And if that doesn’t work they should absolutely call us.  In fact, they can call us at any point during the process and we can go back to the parent coordinator or principal and work with them. Parents can email me at Phone is not the easiest way to contact me, because I move around a lot, but my direct line is 212-374-3435.

Q.  What’s your agenda for this school year?

A. We’re structuring it in three parts.   We’re going to take advantage of the school structures themselves – we’re going to ask the School Leadership Teams, parent coordinators and principals to help us identify some leaders in their schools so we can invite them to some broad-based listening sessions to hear what people are saying.

We’re also going to work with the CECs.  We have a really talented person, Ewel Napier, who will work on optimizing CEC structure and make sure they get better and faster information that they can relate to parents.

And the third is getting new listening sessions in the places and spaces that parents are volunteering their time – synagogues, mosques, churches, tenant and home-owner and block associations – wherever parents are and wherever leaders are that are organizing them.

I’m hoping that parents can build their case for what will help their students achieve.  And when their case is made in a disciplined and organized way – not by one or two parents saying something that’s personally relevant to them, but by 100 parents -- the way we did it in the organizing field, then we’ll fight to have those things done and be real honest about what can and cannot get done.

I really hope parents give me a shot at doing that.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010 13:26

Seeking parents to help restore arts funding

The Center for Arts Education (CAE) is enlisting parent leaders to join a team of advocates dedicated to restoring arts education to New York City public schools.   A recent study published by the CAE found that over the three year period from 2006 to 2009, support for arts education in the city's schools declined.

In its second year, CAE's Parent Fellows Initiative trains parent leaders -- ideally those with experience working for a PTA, Community Education Council or other community organization -- to raise awareness about the benefits of arts education and the decline in state funding for it. Tasks will include  visiting schools and reaching out to parents  to increase awareness of the benefits of arts education.  Parent Fellows will be paid a monthly stipend and get free access to cultural events, performances, and workshops.

For more information about the Parent Fellows Initiative, see the  Parent Fellows Announcement.

If you're interested in becoming a Parent Fellow, contact Kira Streets, Director of Public Engagement at (212) 971-3300, ext. 324 or email

Wednesday, 15 September 2010 08:31

DOE offers free SAT prep to 11th & 12th graders

Last February the Department of Education offered the city's 65,000 11th graders free access to an online SAT prep course through College Board.  The goal was to stem the tide of declining scores since 2002 by offering students the free course in time to prepare for the March, June, or October 2010 SAT exams.

With news that only 8000 11th graders took advantage of the free course last spring, the DOE is opening up the program to current 11th graders.   Free access expires in February 2011, so students will need to take advantage of it in the fall semester.

To register for the course, students will need to have an access code. All 12th graders should have received an access code last February.  If you never received one, or lost it, contact your school's college office or guidance counselor for help.  If you have your code, register here.

Current 11th graders who are interested in getting a head start on  preparing for the spring 2011 SATs, should request an access code from their school.

See also our post about the slight gains made by New York City students on 2010 SAT exams.  And if you are a student who took advantage of the free test prep last spring, let us know how it went by commenting below.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010 08:27

City students post slight gains on SATs

New York City students posted gains on the SATs in 2010 from the previous year, in contrast to statewide scores, which dropped slightly from 2009 to 2010.  While the city's overall SAT scores inched up only a few points in math and English over 2009, the slight jump reversed a four-year downward  trend in performance.

The modest gains were limited to Asian and white students. Performance by black and Latino students didn't budge much from 2009 (one point increase in math; three point decline in writing section), but the overall scores for these two sub-groups, which comprise the majority of the city's students, has declined since 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg first took office and gained control over city schools.

On the upside, many more minority students are taking the SAT exams than in 2002. “This year’s results suggest that more students have college on their minds,” said Chancellor Joel I. Klein in a press release.

More students in city schools are also taking Advanced Placement exams. In 2002, roughly 17,000 sat for at least one AP exam, fewer than half the 28,000 who took at least one AP exam in 2010.

Read the Department of Education's full presentation on the 2010 SAT, AP and PSAT exam results here.  For a look at SAT participation since 2002, see here.

On a related note, check out a New York Times article from 2009 on the correlation between family income and SAT performance.

More news coverage at the New York Times, New York Post and Gotham Schools.

And, do you have an 11th or 12th grade in need of SAT test prep? Check out our post about free test prep offered by the DOE.

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