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Today's Sun has a comprehensive overview of where the city's school budgets now stand — and it's possible, writes Elizabeth Green, that one reason principals didn't receive their school budgets last week as scheduled is that the mayor plans to restore some funding to schools. That's the hope, at least, of principals and school advocates who want to see an upside to a delay that follows a year of financial uncertainty. Advocates have been relentless in pressuring the mayor and chancellor to restore school funding, planning rallies in every borough, airing TV and radio ads, and getting local Community Education Councils to pass resolutions opposing the cuts.
And all but just a few City Council members signed a resolution opposing the budget cuts; the Council must approve the proposed budget before it is adopted. This morning, the council's education and finance committees are discussing the city's capital school budget. Next week, the council takes on the operating budget. By then, and as early as this afternoon, we should see the mayor or the chancellor address the financial picture the schools are facing. I predict they've gotten the message that it won't be acceptable for them to tell principals and parents again that budget cuts will have "no impact whatsoever."
"Did you get the mail yet?'' my 5th grader asked yesterday, for about the 300th time in the last month.
I did not like the anxious look on his face, but I understand it. For reasons as of yet unexplained and articulated by anyone at the New York City Department of Education, middle school notifications are coming way later this year. As we forge ahead with graduation and birthday plans, end-of-year publishing parties and arts festival performances, a letter from a middle school is on the way.
Hopefully, the envelope will come from one of our top two choices, made after much discussion on our part, after many visits and careful consideration of everything from the commute to the class sizes. We can't be quite sure how that middle school arrived at the decision, as each one seems to do something a bit differently when choosing their 6th graders.
We do know all the top schools have way too many first choice applicants and simply can't take them all.
As the wait stretches on, 5th-grade parents in choice districts throughout the city are all a little anxious. If the news is not what we wanted, we must be nonetheless cheery and optimistic, explaining to our 9- and 10-year-olds that this does not constitute personal rejection and they will be happy wherever they end up. Or, we can choose to appeal the decision and push for one of our top choices nonetheless, prolonging an arduous process even more.
When my older son was going through this process two years ago, he knew by April where he was headed the following year. He was delighted, and promptly forgot about middle school and focused on enjoying the rest of the year with his close friends.
That is what I'm urging my 5th grader to do now. And I am focusing on the rituals of the wonderful elementary school we are about to leave behind, along with moments when my child might still grasp his hand and ask if I'm the one taking him to school or picking him up -- a concept that ends instantly for many parents in middle school.
I'm preparing to bake my last batch of birthday cupcakes to bring to his class on the big day, another ritual that disappears in most middle schools. And when I pick up my 7th grader this week, I'm making sure we meet somewhere not even remotely close to his school but in another neighborhood entirely.
NYC Public School Parents is hosting a copy of the DOE's much-anticipated "Blueprint for District 2 Enrollment and Capacity." At a recent meeting about overcrowding in District 2, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the fact that such a document was on its way was one "sign of progress" in reducing overcrowding in the district's schools — but I wonder whether he still feels that way, having read what the DOE proposes in the preliminary planning document.
"We know that an appropriate plan for District 2's elementary schools will require not only new construction but also enrollment adjustments and efficient use of current facilities," DOE officials write. Contrasted with district residents' thoughtful identification of existing space that could be used for schools, the proposal is thin on ideas for new construction, describing only the plan, announced recently, to convert part of one Greenwich Village building into a 600-student elementary school and one other new idea for construction, in Kips Bay. (Two elementary schools are already planned to open in Lower Manhattan in 2010, and a middle school expansion project is also underway on the Upper East Side.)
While the DOE says it is planning to add nearly 3,000 new seats in elementary and middle schools in District 2, it also asks for two unpopular commitments from District 2 officials and schools. First, it calls for a reduction in out-of-district enrollment in some of Manhattan's most popular schools, a reduction that is already underway thanks to the DOE's own "proactive oversight" of admissions and one that is sure to undermine schools' efforts to maintain diversity in some of the wealthiest zip codes in the city. The DOE also calls for a rezoning of the entire district to account for new schools and resolve some current sticky issues, such as the zone-sharing between PS 3 and PS 41 in Greenwich Village and the lack of a zoned school for children in the old PS 151 zone on the Upper East Side. And it suggests that 5th graders at overcrowded elementary schools in Lower Manhattan be bused to buildings more than a mile away, an option that is sure to please parents who secured apartments with the neighborhood schools in mind.
The letter is packed with tidbits about what families in District 2 (and beyond) might expect as the DOE continues to centralize admissions procedures. It's definitely worth a look. And if you're in District 2, you can respond to your local community board, the Manhattan Borough President's office, or by taking an online survey about school overcrowding. And if you're in other parts of the city — perhaps you're in South Brooklyn, where anti-overcrowding momentum appears to be mounting — you might start thinking now about what the DOE can, and should not, do to relieve overcrowding in your area.
Kids these days spend more and more time inside their utilitarian public school buildings, and as a result they're alienated from nature and the creativity nature inspires, writes Alison Arieff in a recent Times column. "What if we looked beyond the notion of schools as institutions (like jails, banks, courthouses) and thought about them more as laboratories for creativity, exploration and innovation?" she asks.
Arieff suggests that one way to accomplish this might be by building "green" schools (or renovating existing buildings in environmentally sustainable ways) so that classrooms are integrated with the natural world around them. In New York City, that's not as easily accomplished as it might be elsewhere, especially given the glacier-like pace of school construction here. But schools in New York could do a lot more to release kids into the "wild" of the city, where rather than explore forests and streams they might explore the world's very best museums, theaters, and parks.
Parents are reporting that they've started hearing back from citywide middle schools. They've heard — as have we at Insideschools — that districts will be letting students know where they've been accepted by the end of this month. Does anyone have any other information to share? Good luck to all!
In a couple of hours, Chancellor Joel Klein will give the Class Day address at Columbia; he graduated from the school in 1967. Lots of seniors were nonplussed by the choice, Columbia's student newspaper reported last month. Barnard's got Klein's boss, Mayor Bloomberg. But hey, boring speeches mean more time for blowing up beach balls and stealing bases, right?
Mayor Bloomberg has got to be feeling the pressure to restore education funds to the city's budget. On Wednesday, parents gathered at City Hall to urge City Council members to vote down the proposed budget. This morning, State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver presented the mayor with an assembly resolution asking him to restore school funding. Anti-cut rallies are scheduled for Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx in the next week. (See the Insideschools calendar for details about dates and locations.) And the Keep the Promises Coalition has just launched a new TV spot urging New Yorkers to call 1-800-961-6198 to tell the mayor to fund the schools.
Some kind of changes may be brewing. Patrick Sullivan reported last night on the NYC Public School Parents blog that the DOE has delayed the Panel for Education Policy's vote on the executive budget, originally scheduled for Monday, saying that it is working on reducing the impact of cuts to schools. Of course, it could be that the DOE needs time to fix serious inconsistencies in the proposed budget -- Eduwonkette's noted one and it's not hard to find others.
From the minute we dropped our 5th graders off in a sun-dappled elementary school courtyard last September, the search – and the questions – officially began for parents. Would we be able to find a decent New York City public middle school for our 9- and 10-year-olds?
The tours got off to a slow and somewhat confusing start, but one thing became immediately clear as we began to rank our choices one to five: There are far more students who want to get into the most coveted middle schools than there are spots for them.
In recent weeks, a dire picture of the overcrowding lower Manhattan and other areas of the city face and the impact it will have on schools has emerged. The New York Times weighed in, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has announced a meeting next week to discuss the implications.
A report Stringer released last month found the city had approved enough new residential buildings to add up to 2,300 new students in K-8 – while increasing total school capacity by only 143 seats.
Overcrowding is a serious problem, and it's only getting worse as more families choose to stay in the city.
I wish I could tell parents not to worry or stress, and urge them to shun private institutions or moves to the suburbs. The problem is, plenty of us are already staying in the city and fighting for better public schools, just as innovative educators are working hard to make the schools we do have more appealing by attracting grants and specialty programs.
It’s not enough. Supply does not meet demand. The overcrowding in some areas is causing parents to be shut out of kindergarten in some of the most coveted neighborhood schools, as the Times story noted.
Fast-growing immigrant areas in the Bronx, Queens and Upper Manhattan have spent years struggling with overcrowded schools, classrooms and trailers as immigrant populations continue to surge.
Finding a good middle school – and then getting into it – is hard enough now: the best have a long list of children shut out for lack of space.
Without serious attention it may become nearly impossible in years to come.Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle
From the Sun comes the news that the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, which had its application denied last year, is now cleared to open in District 15 in 2009. The school will open with grade 6 and will eventually serve students in grades 6-12. Founders says Brooklyn Prospect will offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate program as part of the school's mission of giving students "the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind necessary for success in higher education, the workplace, and life in the twenty-first century." Parents of current 4th graders can contact the school now for more information; as at all charters, admissions will be done by lottery, applications for which will be due in April 2009, and residents of District 15 will have priority for admission.