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PTA mom "retires" with advice for parents

Written by Pamela Wheaton Thursday, 27 June 2013 12:13

by Michele Herman:

Michele Herman is a writer, editor and teacher living in the Village. She writes frequently about education and community issues for The Villager. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Downtown Express.


For the past 16 years, I have been an active New York City public school parent. Most of those years I’ve served on the executive board of one P.T.A. or another, and for the past three, I’ve been a parent rep on the School Leadership Team at Stuyvesant High School.

My learning curve was considerable: when my older son entered kindergarten at P.S. 3, my first job was folding the auditorium chairs. During my younger son’s last years at Stuyvesant, when the administration was edging toward a one-size-fits-all educational approach, I was fighting hard for things I believe all kids deserve from their school: humaneness, flexibility and breadth of offerings.

Along the way I learned library software, helped hire two principals, organized writing festivals, took a ream of minutes, sent out weekly email blasts, recruited officers, made speeches, and wrote a multi-page monthly newsletter, handbooks and a manifesto. I wasn’t even close to being one of the most involved parents. I bow down before all the good-humored, overtired presidents under whom I’ve served. I bow even deeper before the parents who are working to reform the whole system.

Spread the word! Free summer meals

Written by Jacqueline Wayans Wednesday, 26 June 2013 04:07

As a former food stamp recipient and a mom who uses great savvy to feed my three kids, I was encouraged and empowered at this week’s Hunger Crisis Forum to hear Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City say: “No one should feel shame just because they don’t have enough money [to adequately feed their family].” The Hunger Crisis Forum took place the same week that the annual Free Summer Meals Program [PDF] kicks off.

An all-female panel of CEO’s discussed rising food prices and the increasing number of parents struggling to feed their families. In fact, they said, many educated and middle class families find themselves using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time.

At least 80% of students in NYC public school qualify for free lunch. In response to the growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture is spending $400 million on the Summer Meals Program which starts in New York City on June 27. Yet only 16 percent of eligible children are expected to participate. Why? According to speakers at the forum, that "stigma" and "embarrassment" often keep people from taking advantage of the services.

If you've got a 7th grader finishing up the school year now, it's time for you to start thinking about high school. Here's what you and your rising 8th-grader can do over the summer.

Schools are handing out the 2013-2014 directory of high schools (now online) before summer vacation. If your child doesn't bring one home. you can pick one up at the nearest enrollment office. You'll will find information about every high school in the city including: what it takes to get in, what time school starts for freshman, whether there is a dress code, and the number of students who applied and were accepted last year. You can also see the school's graduation rate.

To introduce middle school families to the admissions process, the Department of Education enrollment office is offering evening workshops, two in every borough between July 16 and Aug. 1.  The first five workshops will  offer an overview of the application process and the types of high school programs; the last five will be about the nine specialized high schools, eight of which require an exam for admissions while the ninth requires an audition.

Absenteeism: Make scanning random, say teens

Written by Annaclaire Miller Wednesday, 19 June 2013 16:13

Why do 40 percent of New York City high school students miss a month of school each year? The Center for Court Innovation went directly to the source and asked 17 high school students serving on its Youth Justice Board to research the issue. On Tuesday night at City Hall, students made ten recommendations to Chancellor Dennis Walcott on how to reduce chronic absenteeism. Suggestions ranged from taking a closer look at school security to providing peer mentors to students who are frequently absent.

The problem is huge: More than 20 percent of New York City students in grades kindergarten through 12 are chronically absent for a month out of each year --that's five percentage points higher than the national rate.

The Youth Justice Board brings “the voices of young people into issues that affect their lives,” said Steven, a rising senior at Benjamin Bennaker High School. The diverse group of teens represented all five boroughs. The students came up with their recommendations after a year of research that included meeting with student focus groups, teachers, parents, and policy makers. One issue they identified: metal detectors and security at the front door.

29 new dual language programs to open

Written by Anna Schneider Monday, 17 June 2013 18:09

The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.

Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO. 

Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish.  But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. PerryPS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well. 

Families who were closed out of public school pre-kindergarten programs for their children turning four years old in 2013 may still apply to local community based organizations -- known as CBOs -- where there are still plenty of slots available, according to the Department of Education.

While only 30 percent of families who applied to full or half day programs were matched with a public school program earlier this month, odds may be better at the CBOs. A directory of CBOs offering pre-kindergarten programs is here [PDF]. You may apply to CBOs throughout the spring and summer. Admission is first come, first served.

Families still hoping for a pubic school pre-kindergarten program for their four-year-old should contact the school to ask to put on a waiting list. The deadline for accepted students to register is Wednesday, June 19. On the following day, June 20, schools may begin to contact families on the waitlist to let them know if a spot has opened up.

Here's the link [PDF] to a list of public schools that still had available seats as of June 3.

There were thousands of disappointed families when the city finally mailed offers to elementary Gifted and Talented programs on Friday. This year a record number of children - close to 5,500 -- qualified for the five more selective citywide programs, yet only about 300 offers were made, according to the Department of Education. That means there were slots in citywide schools available for only about five percent of eligible students.

Overall, the chances of snagging a seat in either a district or citywide G&T program were slim, especially in districts where there were high numbers of eligible students. Only 68.5 percent of eligible kindergartners got an offer. Since all G&T programs begin in kindergarten, the odds of getting a seat decrease each succeeding year. For 1st grade, 51 percent of applicants received an offer; in 2nd grade, 34 percent got an offer and in 3rd grade, only 29 percent. In total, just 54 percent of applicants in those grades were offered a seat, a significant decrease from the 72 percent offered a seat in 2012. After 3rd grade, placement in G&T programs is based on standardized state test scores.

Parents must accept their offers and register by June 28 (two days after the last day of school) or forfeit their seat.

Dear Judy,

We plan to move to NYC from South America this summer. Can we still register our 5-year-old in kindergarten?

DT

Dear DT,

Yes, of course. New York City has a kindergarten place for every child who applies, as long as you can present proof of residence in NYC and of your child's age.  Most districts have zoned elementary schools. You may register at your zoned school once school opens in September. If you already know your address, call 311, or from outside New York, 212-new york to find your zoned school. You may also enter your address in the search box on the Department of Education's website  to find the zoned school for that address. There may be other school options but you are guaranteed a place in your zoned school or one that is nearby, in case the neighborhood school is overcrowded.

Advocates say "no" to de-zoning D5 and D6

Written by Annaclaire Miller Wednesday, 12 June 2013 15:52

At a public forum Tuesday night in Washington Heights, Community Education Council 5 President Sonia Jones said her council plans to vote "no" on a resolution to de-zone when it meets on June 13th.

Jones said CEC 5 is submitting an anti-de-zoning resolution to clearly state its position on record: “Teachers, parents and principals are standing with CEC 5 against de-zoning,” Jones said while sitting on a panel at the Public Forum on Elementary School De-zoning, hosted by Councilperson Robert Jackson, head of the City Council's education committee.

Jones acknowledged that the idea of “choice” sounds appealing, but, she said, “you don’t get to choose what school your child really goes to, because there is someone in the office who decides where your child goes.” Jones advised District 6's Community Education Council, which is also considering a de-zoning proposal, to “slow down.”

Kids find out if they need summer school

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 12 June 2013 12:02

Parents are learning this week whether their children will be sent to summer school based on their performance on 2013 state reading and math exams for grades 3-8. The initial good news that the numbers of students recommended for summer school is not higher than usual, according to principals.

"I'm imagining that we'll have the same number of students [attending summer school] as in previous years," said Christina Fuentes, principal of PS 24 in Brooklyn. "Other principals I've talked to said they did feel that the cut scores were adjusted [for the harder exams]."

This year there have been widespreads concern about the harder exams, which for the first time were aligned with the new Common Core standards. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott tried to alleviate those concerns in a letter to parents before exams were administered in April. He acknowledged that tests would be harder, but, he said, scoring a level 1 out of 4, would not mean automatic holdover for children as it has in previous years. Instead, he wrote, the DOE "will look at students' overall scores-how many questions each student got right. Students with the lowest scores will be recommended for summer school."