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Parents running for ed councils see hurdles and hope

Written by Aimee Sabo Wednesday, 25 March 2015 19:53

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.

Why I'm choosing an early ed center for pre-k

Written by Kendra Hurley Monday, 23 March 2015 16:47

Last week marked the start of New York City's pre-kindergarten application process. For about two seconds I fantasized about securing a coveted spot in a district school pre-k for my 3-year-old son. He'd be able to go on to kindergarten there; we'd have the next several years figured out, educationally, at least. But I soon saw the light: Staying at the early education center where my son now attends preschool has benefits too great to pass by.

Sure, there are all the logistical perks people mention when singing the praises of early ed centers: Unlike schools, my son's daycare is open during the summer, and provides 11 hours of care each day, not just the six hours of city-paid universal pre-k. Although we will pay for the extended hours, that means no need for complicated, patched-together after-school or summer child care arrangements.

Also key: My son's younger sister will attend the 2-year-old program there. That makes for just one pick-up and drop-off.

If your child turns 4 this year, he or she is eligible for free pre-kindergarten, either in a public school or at a early childhood center run by a community organization. But how can you find one? And what is the quality of the programs?

The staff of Insideschools and a panel of experts will tell you how to find a good program for your child and how to navigate the application process at our March 31 event: The Lowdown on pre-k. We'll also introduce our new pre-k search engine. Type in your address and you'll see what your zoned school is and whether it offers pre-kindergarten. With this search, you'll be able to find all the pre-k options closest to your home or work and see reviews of public schools that offer pre-k. 

The de Blasio administration gets an A for effort in its rapid expansion of pre-kindergarten, with more than 30,000 new seats last fall and another 20,000 planned for this coming fall. But what is the quality of these new programs? Even though there are more free all-day pre-k programs than ever,  demand still outstrips supply in many neighborhoods. Get the lowdown at this free workshop for parents. We will:

Brooklyn mom Jordan Scott has spent months searching for pre-kindergarten for her daughter—touring seven schools, scouring websites, and asking friends' advice. One school filled its seats before the city even published the pre-k directory. Another suggested she pay a $1,000 deposit to secure a seat—although pre-k is supposed to be free.

Public schools, charter schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, private nursery schools, Head Start programs, child care centers, settlement houses and community organizations are all taking part in Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious effort to offer free pre-kindergarten to 70,000 4-year-olds this year. And, while Scott is thrilled by the prospect, navigating the application process has been a production.

"It's very confusing. This has been my part-time job since last fall," said Scott, one of the 22,000 parents who submitted an application for pre-kindergarten on March 16, the first day of the month-long application period. "I had a spreadsheet and online map. I spent so much money on babysitting that I just took my daughter along on some of the tours."

Colleges' reliance on part-time, "contingent" faculty who work without employment benefits and are generally paid far less than full-time, permanent teachers is not a new problem: It has been going on for over 30 years. But disenchanted part-time faculty—and full-time faculty who agree with them—have become increasingly vocal about the practice.

Not only is the hiring of large numbers of contingent or "adjunct" faculty members poor labor practice, but, according to Professor Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, it affects "the education of most students, especially undergraduates, in a very negative way." Schrecker was interviewed for the February 25, 2015 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education during the week that had been declared a period of national action by part-time faculty. Adjuncts and their supporters wanted to call attention to their working conditions, which usually involve low pay, no benefits, inadequate office space, and little or no chance of promotion. For students, the adjunct situation involves constant teacher turnover, the inability to form meaningful or lasting relationships with teachers and working with a demoralized faculty.

Parents dash to apply for pre-kindergarten

Written by Aimee Sabo Tuesday, 17 March 2015 15:12

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.

"Hey, ho! Cuomo's plan has got to go"

Written by Brigitte Bürgler Thursday, 12 March 2015 15:16

Hundreds of children, parents, teachers, and school leaders encircled PS 29 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn before school this morning. Despite the chilly weather, the school community was fired up against Governor Cuomo’s proposed education reform in New York. Many feel it will harm children, teachers and communities—and I am one of them.

Cuomo aims to take teacher evaluation out of the hands of public school leaders and communities and into the hands of computers and outside evaluators. He proposes having teachers’ evaluations consist of: 50 percent student state test–score growth, 35 percent outside evaluators’ observations, and only 15 percent school leader's assessment. Research indicates that the computer calculation that evaluates teachers based on test-score growth has a high error rate (35 percent), because it cannot account for the many other factors in children’s lives. Its accuracy is almost as random as a coin toss. The most reliable evaluators of teachers are experienced educators within schools, who know the context, curriculum and the stakeholders.

The Department of Education released its list of 20 high schools that received the most applications this year, and Townsend Harris High School in Queens, with 5,540 applicants, was at the top. It was one of five high school programs that received more than 5,000 applications from 8th-graders in 2015.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ELRO), a small school that limits enrollment to Manhattan's District 2 students, was second most popular with 5,376 applicants. ELRO continues to get thousands of applications from students throughout the city even though those coming from outside of the district have little chance of getting accepted. 

Beacon High School, which moves to a new building in Hell's Kitchen in September, was number three, garnering 5,255 applications for 300 seats. Beacon, like some other popular and very selective schools, still has a few openings for students with special needs. Schools that screen applicants for test scores and grades have been charged with attracting and enrolling more students who require special education services for at least 20 percent of the school day. Many came up short in the first round of high school admissions

If you're a rising 9th or 10-grader who didn't get accepted by any high schools this week—or you want to try again for another school—go to the second round admissions fair next weekend, March 14-15. You'll meet representatives from schools that still have space and you can ask questions about what most interests you.

Where to start? Hundreds of schools have openings, but not all are worth considering. Focus on the same factors you thought about when you applied last fall: How long does it take to get there? Do you prefer big or small? Is there a special school theme? Read through our tips on what to consider.

We've combed through the round 2 list to identify our picks, schools that are proven best bets or seem promising.

Many of the screened schools still have openings for students who receive special education services for upwards of 20 percent of the school day. That includes—but is not limited to—students in Integrated Co-Teaching or small self-contained classes. If you are uncertain as to whether you qualify, ask your guidance counselor to check in the online SEMS (student enrollment management system).

If you have been assigned to a school, you may reapply in this round but be aware that if you are accepted to another school you give up your first round match. Applications are due on March 20

BRONX

Bronx Collaborative High School, is modeled after the popular and progressive Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE) in Manhattan. Brett Schneider, former ICE assistant principal, is the principal.

Students at the Bronx Early College Academy for Teaching & Learning take college courses for credit at Lehman College.

At Bronx Lab, students enjoy lots of interesting trips and can participate in an internship program.

Bronx Leadership Academy High School serves many struggling learners, and offers lots of support for stronger students.

Bronx River High School provides students with extra guidance and longer school days.

Strong students may consider the Macy’s honors program at Dewitt Clinton High School. It offers challenging academics, though there are some concerns about safety and discipline in the building.

Marble Hill High School for International Studies, which has strong attendance and graduation rates, has seats in its program for English language learners.

At the University Heights Secondary School students enjoy the comfort of a small school with the offerings of a large one.

The honors program at Westchester Square Academy offers Advanced Placement classes starting in 10th-grade.

Though the school has had its share of struggles in recent years, Lehman High School’s honors program, the Anne Hutshinson Academy, provides stronger students the opportunity to do research and take advanced and college-level courses.

The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx is part of a well-regarded network of all-girl schools. It opened in 2012 as a middle school and is expanding to serve high school students starting with a 9th grade in September 2015.

For those interested in arts programs, Celia Cruz High School offers topnotch music instruction. Wings Academy, which has space in both its academic and dance programs, provides lots of academic and social support for its students. The High School for Violin and Dance, which is predominantly female, offers extra support for boys through weekly meetings and special activities.

A few popular schools that have filled all their general education spots still have open seats reserved for students receiving special education services: Bronx Theatre High School, The Cinema School, H.E.R.O. High School, MS/HS 223, Theatre Arts Production Company School (TAPCo).