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With troubling news about school budgets percolating (more on this later), let's focus this morning on the city's exceptional students. Four students at Stuyvesant the most at a single school and one at Bronx Science were among the 40 national semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. Kids at MS 318 in Brooklyn beat national chess champs Murrow High School for the city chess title. And kids at IS 98 in the South Bronx take LEGO robotics seriously, as do their peers at 59 other Bronx schools; they're currently raising money to travel to Japan to compete.

Last week, the DOE released results of the Principal Satisfaction Survey that it said proved that principals are happy as clams. Of course, we know the truth is a little more nuanced, and as Diane Ravitch noted after speaking to a number of principals at an event, many principals were hesitant to express their true feelings because they feared retribution; officially, the survey was anonymous, but it was distributed and collected via DOE email addresses.

Still, looking past the sunny picture the DOE painted, Insideschools reporter Vanessa Witenko saw some more unsettling results. In particular, she noticed that only 28 percent of the principals who responded to the survey (who represent 70 percent of all principals) said they were at all satisfied by the way the central student enrollment office handles enrollment of kids with special needs. Check out her full report on principals' dissatisfaction with special ed enrollment.

While adults fought, kids suffered at KGIA; rally tonight

Written by Admin Tuesday, 29 January 2008 03:36

Tonight, supporters of the Khalil Gibran International Academy are holding a "an evening of celebration and support" for the school, which continues to be troubled a semester after it opened. Earlier this month, the DOE finally announced a permanent replacement for original principal Debbie Almontaser. This week, the Post reports that shorted in the chaos of the opening months were the school's 10 students with special needs, who don't have a dedicated teacher and who apparently have not been receiving any of the services mandated by the IEPs. Class size is also around 30 students with only one teacher in the room, the Post reports, and kids in special education and general education alike are having a hard time learning. For more details about the event tonight, see the Insideschools calendar.

8th Grader Izzy: The wait continues, but not for long

Written by Admin Tuesday, 29 January 2008 03:08

Hey everyone! It's been quite some time since I last blogged, mainly because all has been quiet on the high school frontier for a while now. I am currently waiting for the results of the specialized high school exam, which are due back next week (somewhere around Feb. 6), to tell me whether or not I made it into my first-choice specialized high school.

At the same time that I'm pretty jazzed about those results, I'm also anticipating the results of my application to non-specialized high schools. At this point, I will, quite frankly, be happy no matter where I get in. I have confidence that I made it into the small school in my neighborhood, and my excitement concerning acceptance to that school has only risen since I finally decided to put it first. Although I've heard rumors that it will be backbreakingly fast-paced, I've also heard wonderful things about the rich curriculum and able staff.

My one concern is that, if I do somehow make it into both the specialized high school and the regular school, which will I choose? Both schools are overachieving and will undoubtedly get me many places in my future career as a student, but I would have to make certain sacrifices in order to succeed in both places. One will allow for shorter travel time, but more club participation; the other, immense travel time, but possibly less competition among the student body. Only the test results (and some good thinking time!) will tell.

Would you wait in the cold at 4:30 a.m. to sign up for more classes with your elementary school science teacher? That's what parents from PS 261 in Brooklyn did this past week when Carmelo Piazza, known in the neighborhood as "Carmelo the Science Fellow," opened registration for the 8-week summer program he runs. The New York Times reports that parents started lining up around 4:30 a.m., and the entire summer session was full less than 3 hours after registration opened at 9 a.m. Piazza sounds indefatigable (and possibly insane), teaching a full schedule, running after-school classes at his neighborhood science joint, and entertaining at weekend birthday parties. The city needs more teachers like him.

It always surprises me how my fellow students always seem to take much more moderate and pragmatic positions on many of today's more controversial education issues than I would expect.

At last week's New York City Student Union meeting, the issue that came up was mayoral control of NYC schools, which Albany can either reinstate or let sunset in 2009. While much of what we hear on the issue from other members of the education community (parents, teachers, activists) is outright condemnation, most students were supportive of the idea of mayoral control.

I've been on the fence about the issue for a while now, but after hearing my fellow students arguments, I am convinced that mayoral control is not the devil after all.

For starters mayoral control assures that at least someone is responsible and accountable for the success and failure of our education system. It makes education an important issue in the municipal election with both the largest voter turnout and the greatest amount of press coverage and it also serves to keep education in the news because there are always reporters surrounding the mayor.

Mayoral control also centralizes education giving some hope for equal standards citywide and the possibility of important sweeping change.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe it needs some changes. I just took my US History Regents and the idea of checks and balances comes to mind. Since the president has to get his Secretary of Education approved by Congress, why shouldn't the mayor have to get the chancellor approved by the City Council? Makes sense right? I would also advocate that a Chancellor Selection Board be appointed comprising of teachers, parents, students and administrators to publicly review candidates for the position.

Up to now, most of what I have heard as criticism of mayoral control seems more to be criticism of what Bloomberg and Klein have done to our schools. What we have seen with the current Bloomberg-Klein Complex is a complete denial of some of the most important issues in education, especially class size. They have also shown a pattern of disrespect to many of the constituents of our education system and filled the department with bureaucrats, lawyers and businessmen instead of educators.

We know that we need a chancellor who has experience as an educator in the classroom and in the schools. We need one who understands the delicate processes of teaching and learning. So I say, instead of drifting back to decentralization and the disorganization and confusion that comes with it, why not demand a mayor who will give us just that, who will pledge to put an educator in charge of our schools. This in my belief is one of the biggest positives of mayoral control is that we the people can make this statement.

In 2009, Albany will have a tough decision to make. Mayoral control is an extreme system. It is likely to be very good or very bad because under it change comes much more easily. It does not tend towards moderation. However, in our current state of education, in which way too few of us students graduate and fewer leave our schools ready to support ourselves and become able participants in our democracy, we need a system that will enable change to occur. What we have had is not working. We need new solutions, new ideas. Mayoral control is the most effective way to implement the changes we seek in our schools.

So the question before Albany is this: Do we want to abandon a system that has such a potential for good, just because it hasn't been used as such in the past six years?
--Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling this summer raised our hopes that the city's schools would finally receive equitable and more adequate funding, but it's turning out not to be quite the banner year for school funding that some had hoped. First, Governor Spitzer reduced the amount of new money flowing to the city's schools. Now, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a $324 million reduction in the city's education budget, representing a 1.3 percent cut.

According to the Post, Bloomberg sees the cuts as an inducement for principals to spend more efficiently. Speaking as the business leader who amassed a fortune of nearly $12 billion (or $324 million, 37 times), Bloomberg said,

"I'm sorry. You can always cut 1.3 percent. In fact, it's healthy to go and say let's cut a little bit and force the principals and the teachers and the administrators to say, 'Is this program worth it?'"

Bloomberg's sentiment is, of course, offensive to principals and teachers and administrators who are struggling to provide high-quality educations under difficult circumstances and who certainly don't think anything they're doing is worthless (except maybe confiscating cell phones and administering standardized tests under DOE orders). And more than that, it's offensive to children for whom every art class, field trip, and ounce of enrichment means something, even if those expenditures don't always immediately translate into improved "performance."

Elected leaders often have to make difficult decisions that adversely affect their constituents. We understand. But they don't have to sound happy about it.

REMINDER: PEP meeting today (1/28)

Written by Admin Monday, 28 January 2008 02:25

If you care about the mayor's proposed 8th grade promotion policy, tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting is your first chance to make your voice heard. (You'll also be able to speak out on the promotion policy at a series of public hearings in February and March; see the Insideschools calendar for details on dates and times.) 6 p.m. at Tweed; arrive a little early if you want to sign up to speak. Map.

Kindergartener handcuffed at Queens elementary school

Written by Admin Friday, 25 January 2008 06:01

We all know that overzealous security guards can be a problem in schools, but I didn't think the issue extended to kindergartens. Apparently it does. When a 5 year old at PS 81 in Queens had a tantrum which presumably had something to do with him being 5 years old a security guard handcuffed him and called an ambulance to take him to a local psych ward, the Daily News reports today. Of course, there may be more to this story than the Daily News is saying, but the school and the DOE aren't disputing what happened, and now a kid feels unwelcome at his neighborhood public school. This story is just one more reminder that the city's schools need personnel who are trained to work with children, not criminals.

When choosing a middle school, what happens after hours is critical in a city where space is scarce and fields are threatened.

Parents mulling middle school options spend a great deal of time comparing math and science programs, class size and school philosophies. They also can't help noticing the wide disparity of sports and after-school programs and activities

Extras like robotics and rock bands can be big factors for working parents. Who wouldn't prefer having their kids in fun, structured activities in school instead of hanging out in city parks, unsupervised?

Kids care a lot about these offerings as well. My 5th-grade son is absolutely swayed by the promise of track, soccer and swim teams.

After school sports are even more critical at a time when the few athletic fields available to New York City kids are threatened by politics - as at Randall's Island - or by development, as at Pier 40, where a huge rally is planned this Sunday at noon to save the fields from development.

So far, no middle school we've toured can compete with the offerings at M.A.T. in Chinatown, detailed in a great piece last week in the Downtown Express. The promise of the long-awaited community center that will be available free for all students at IS 289 will also be welcome.

But only M.A.T. offers a climbing wall (a great metaphor for middle schoolers, who literally climb them anyway) along with a surfing club and a tremendous track and field program. John De Matteo, the school's ambitious athletic director, is building a really impressive program where 65 percent of all students participate in a sport.

To his credit, De Matteo has already met with the principal of Tompkins Square Middle School to explain how M.A.T. can support 16 sports and 38 teams. He plans to meet with other middle school principals to talk about how they can model their programs after M.A.T. as well.

De Matteo is happy to share his insights because he is so convinced that it makes a huge difference in the lives of middle schoolers.

"I believe that being on a structured sports team which teaches children how to work with their teammates, build sportsmanship, build community and character and motivate to improve grades will be one of the most important opportunities for our children to have," he says.

Any advice M.A.T. can offer middle school principals will be a positive step for all New York City public schools. Space, money and scheduling issues all interfere with the creation of after school programs. Just last week, hundreds of kids and parents crowded into PS 3 in the West Village, pointing out the critical need for more schools in Chelsea and the Village. Kids wondered why luxury condos are cropping up everywhere when schools are not.

There are not enough good public schools in the city. We also need fields, after school programs and sports. Parents are going to have to make a lot of noise to make sure we get them.

In the meantime, let's offer support and encouragement to the educators and visionaries who are creating, pushing and sharing programs that mean so much to our kids.