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(This article by Lydie Raschka, Insideschools writer and school reviewer, appears in the April 22, 2014 online edition of Education Week.)
Recently I spent 10 weeks as a classroom teacher again, after a long hiatus. One night, I stayed late at school to prepare the shelves for our cross-genre reading unit. My six-year-olds were going to hunt through baskets of books to find fiction, nonfiction, and poetry related to a topic of interest to them. I ransacked the shelves and filled the baskets with books about math for a boy in my class named Evan, about U.S. presidents for Deana, and old-fashioned automobiles for Eliana.
Over the course of the week each child would pick a topic and read for information about it from different genres, so I'd spend prep time making it easier for them to get the books they needed. But when it came to poetry, I hunted around and was pulled up short. All the poetry books were unwieldy and hard to categorize by topic. They were also oddly shaped: I had to place them between our book baskets because they were too big, too fat, and too wide to go inside. One of the metal bookends I was using bent and the books clattered to the floor like the dominoes the children set up in snaking rows around a table at indoor recess.
Take a perennial favorite, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. Because poetry lends itself to being read aloud, most teachers of young children (myself included) keep a copy of this beloved book on a shelf by the daily schedule, cover faced out, or tucked into a larger basket of read-aloud books on the rug where the class gathers for morning meeting.
Unfortunately, at 176 pages, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a heavy book, so for the most part it remains in the hands—and the power—of the adult. I'm not saying the kids in my class couldn't or didn't browse through it on their own but they were generally less inclined to pick up this book and other classroom poetry books because they were big and occupied a separate space.
Read the rest of the article at Education Week.
Queens will have more than 1,500 new pre-k seats this fall. Unfortunately, most are clustered in the southeast and other areas of Queens where there’s little demand — rather than in the very overcrowded northeast section.
Corona, Glendale and Elmhurst
There are 90 new full-day pre-k seats opening up in District 24, a densely populated section of Queens that is home to many immigrants, but it won’t be enough to satisfy demand. Overcrowding persists despite the opening of several new schools in recent years. One possibility: The Children’s Lab School, a new school opening in the fall, will offer two full-day pre-k classes.
Flushing and Whitestone
District 25 has many well-regarded, neighborhood schools — but the competition for full day pre-k is fierce. Three wildly popular early childhood schools — PS 130, PS 242 and the Active Learning Elementary School--receive several hundred applications each. PS 169 is another good pre-k pick if you can manage to get your child in. It will offer two full-day pre-k classes for a total of 36 seats, although last year the school received almost 300 applications. Your best bet: PS 201 is adding two additional classes for a total of four. Our reviewer called the school “charming” and the Department of Education rated it “well-developed,” the highest rating.
Here are our recommendations for pre-kindergarten in the Bronx and Manhattan public schools, based on our school visits and the results of the city’s parent and teacher surveys. We didn’t include some very popular schools that receive hundreds of applications for a handful of seats. Instead, we tried to find some good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed.
Lower East Side
If you live on the Lower East Side, you’re in luck. Every school in District 1 has full day pre-kindergarten classes and all offer tours to prospective parents. There are no zoned schools in the district. Some of the schools are known for their progressive philosophy and high levels of parent involvement, including Earth School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community. The Neighborhood School shares a building with PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy, which is expanding its pre-k program from one to two classes. Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin. Some schools have space for families outside the district.
Upper East Side, Midtown and downtown
District 2, a huge district that stretches from 96th Street on the East Side and 59th Street on the West Side all the way down to the Battery, has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than spots in pre-kindergarten. A brand new school, PS 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, in Chelsea, will offer two pre-k classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you’re looking for full day options popular Midtown West is opening its first pre-k class, PS 116 Mary Lindley Murray is opening two classes and PS 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens is opening one. PS 126 and PS 1 Alfred Smith are terrific schools that sometimes have room for children outside their attendance zones.
Upper West Side and Harlem
District 3 covers the west side of Manhattan. Most of the schools on the Upper West Side have far more applicants than seats, but PS 191 sometimes has seats for children outside its attendance zone. In Harlem, we loved our visits to the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet (with a hands-on engineering program and LEGO Lab) and PS 180 (which boasts a strong arts program). We haven’t visited PS 76, but parent and teacher surveys say it has a friendly vibe and strong leadership.
East Harlem has long been a pioneer of innovation and school choice and is home to popular progressive schools such as Central Park East I, and Central Park East II, which receive hundreds of applicants for only 18 full day pre-k seats. Try a hidden gem like River East instead, which is opening a new pre-k class. We haven’t visited PS 102, PS 146 or PS 155 recently, but positive surveys of parents and teachers suggest they are worth considering.
District 5 in Central Harlem has long had some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. However, there are a few bright spots: We loved our visit to Teachers College Community School (although competition for seats there is fierce.) Our recent visit to PS 200 suggests that it’s moving in the right direction. We haven’t visited PS 125 or PS 197 recently, but parent and teacher surveys are positive.
Washington Heights and Inwood
District 6 once had very overcrowded schools, but enrollment has declined in recent years as the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan have gentrified. Some of the most popular schools have far more applicants than seats. You may have a better chance at three schools we visited recently: Washington Heights Academy, Castle Bridge and PS 128.
District 7 in the South Bronx has mostly low-performing schools, but we can recommend the pre-kindergarten at a few schools we that we have visited. PS 5 has strong leadership and a happy cohesive staff. PS 25 has an amazing science exploration center. PS 157 boasts a good arts program.
Soundview and Throgs Neck
In District 8, we enjoyed our visit to PS 152, which often takes kids from outside across its attendance zone. PS 69 and PS 304 are terrific schools but they are flooded with applicants. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t visited PS 182 in quite a while, but parent and teachers surveys say it’s a safe school with strong leadership and solid academics.
Grand Concourse, Morrisania, Crotona Park
District 9 is on the western edge of the south Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the south Bronx. Best bet here: PS 63, which our reviewer called “an oasis of calm.”
Riverdale, Wave Hill, Central Bronx
One of the most overcrowded districts in the city, District 10 is also the top-performing district in the Bronx. A few schools are adding new pre-kindergarten seats: Bronx New School and a new school opening on Webster Avenue called Bedford Park Elementary.
District 11, covering the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn, has space opening up at Linden Tree Elementary, a new small school that strives to be attentive to children’s different learning styles. PS 160 Walt Disney is one of the best bets for getting a spot in this area with three full day classes opening in the fall and good leadership, according to teacher surveys.
District 12 is smack dab in the middle of the Bronx so it’s worth checking all the bordering districts to find borough-wide options. Bronx Little School is a safe, welcoming place with high-expectations, but over 200 families applied for 18 seats in 2013. Samara Community School is a new school opening in the fall hosting one full day pre-k.
Parents of kids with lopsided abilities despair of finding the right educational fit: for the math whiz who has dyslexia; the child with a photographic memory who can’t sit still; the ace test-taker who struggles to get along with her peers. These kids are Twice Exceptional, often abbreviated as 2e. They’re super smart, but profoundly challenged. Most have Individualed Education Programs (IEP), specifying special education services. They just don’t fit into the public school system.
Now the Education Department is telling schools they must admit and meet the needs of these students within the context of their school as part of the special education reform rolled out last year. On January 13, Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a letter to principals saying: “choice, non-zoned and screened schools will be asked to admit and serve a percentage of students with disabilities equivalent to the percentage of students with disabilities in their district or borough.” said Lauren Katzman, director of special education at the DOE. “There have been targets [enrollment numbers] all along. The change is we’re saying you have to meet your targets.”
On January 19, dozens of parents turned out for a meeting hosted by the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) featuring a panel of educators and Education Department officials including Katzman. They were not surprised to learn that there are no programs designed specifically for 2e kids, moreover the Department of Education does not have “clean data” showing how many 2e’s there are in the system: “Gifted and Talented is not tracked by disability yet but the number is extremely low,” said Katzman.