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The last time you read about PS 191 in the news it probably wasn't a happy story. Over the past year, the school has been at the center of a neighborhood in turmoil over rezoning and all the community angst that comes with it. But last Friday, as Principal Lauren Keville and a PS 191 pre-kindergartner cut the ribbon to the school's new pop-up library, there were only smiles as staff and families joined with parents from schools throughout District 3 to celebrate something beautiful they had built together.

"Our parents have done a tremendous job," said Keville, praising not only swiftness of donations that poured in for the project, but also the months of manual labor and planning involved. "We have a place to engage with our kids about books and hold literacy workshops for parents. This really fits in with all the changes we're making in our school."

Several years ago the school's previous library was remade into a state-of-the-art media lab, and while families and staffers embraced this exciting new opportunity, the void left by the missing library was always felt. "Every other school in this neighborhood has a library," said PTA President Kajsa Reaves, "Why not us?"

by Barbara Glassman, Executive Director, INCLUDEnyc

The just-released 2017 New York City High School directory has a whole new look. It features more pleasing graphics, and information that is clearer and easier to understand.  While we at INCLUDEnyc support the DOE's efforts to bring more clarity to a notoriously intimidating process, applying to high school is still challenging for students with disabilities (SWD) who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

INCLUDEnyc staff has come to know these challenges firsthand, after 30 years of advising parents and students with disabilities about the high school application process.  We tell them that the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) stipulates that all schools must be able to accommodate students with disabilities and provide them with the services and support they need in order to receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).

Unfortunately, what happens in reality does not always comply with federal law. While the directory is a good place for parents and students to begin their search for the best-fit high school, families must know that not every school can provide every SWD with the support and services they need. As we continually coach parents, it is of vital importance that they contact the school administration at the school their child is interested in attending to make sure he or she will be properly accommodated.

It's time for 7th-graders to be thinking about applying to high school. The Department of Education announced key dates for rising 8th-graders including its annual series of July high school admissions information sessions.

The 2017 high school directory is online, and paper copies are available for every 7th-grader at schools and at Family Welcome Centers. In addition to the 600-page book that lists every city high school, there are now individual directories for each borough. Students may see at a glance the different kinds of programs in each borough and what the particular challenges are for students applying. 

In another change, the directory now makes it easier to understand the odds of acceptance to a school whether you are in the pool of general education (GE) students or are a student with a disability (SWD). For each school there's information on the number of GE and SWD seats available, how many applicants there were for each category in the previous year and whether or not those seats were filled.

Fewer students received offers to gifted and talented programs this year than any year in recent memory—and that's a good thing according to the Department of Education. Fifty-three percent of students who qualified for G&T in grades k–3 and applied received offer letters last week, down from 66 percent in 2015. 

The downward trend in offers is part of a broad effort to streamline a G&T process that has long been marred by long waitlists and unfilled seats. Until this year, the Enrollment Office has traditionally "over-offered" G&T seats to account for families who may decide to decline or move, a DOE press release explained, and enrollment was controlled by the central office. Still, inefficiences were glaring in this system with many students remaining on waitlists well into the fall despite open seats—while families and schools were powerless to do anything about it.

"I hope that with schools managing their own wait lists, that they can move through them quickly enough to offer more seats than ultimately they did in the past," schools consultant Robin Aronow told us via email. "It has been disappointing to schools and to qualified applicants who did not get off wait lists by October, only to learn that the programs were under-enrolled because they [DOE enrollment office] did not move through wait lists quickly enough."

Q: I hope you can answer this before school closes for the summer. It would help settle a family dispute! Our son is finishing his junior year of high school. He's a good student, B/B+ average—not at the top of his class, but probably in the top quarter. He has to apply to college next fall, and I think he needs to use this coming summer to better advantage. The last three summers, he's played baseball in a town league and when not playing baseball he's worked at a local restaurant as a busboy and server. I think he ought enhance his applications. I want him to take an SAT prep course and to get at least one internship. Our next-door neighbor is a dentist, and is willing to let our son work in his office for a month. Wouldn't an internship in a dental practice look better on his applications than a job bringing people their pizza?

A: No, not necessarily. One can learn a lot about people by serving them their meals, as well as a lot about oneself by accepting responsibility.

Unless your son's essay or other activities indicate that he has an interest in the health professions, working in a dentist's office for a month won't matter.

Pre-kindergarten offer letters went out earlier this month to nearly 68,000 city children born in 2012, and 85 percent got an offer to one of their top three choices; 71 percent to their first choice. Those who didn't get a seat at one of the schools they listed on their application were assigned to a different program, according to the Department of Education. Every 4-year-old is guaranteed a slot in a full-day program at a public school, a pre-k center run by the DOE or at an early education center—although not necessarily at the school or program closest to home.

This year 11 percent of applicants—7,386—were matched to a program they didn't apply to. Most of them were offered a program in their district and 17 percent were given one in their borough. 

If you like what you got, make sure you pre-register at the program or school by May 27, 2016 (the deadline was extended one week from May 20.) If you're not happy with your choice or just want to keep looking, here's what you need to know.

Accept a placement

Children will automatically be placed on waitlists for schools listed above the one they were assigned to. Unless you have a fallback plan like private or parochial school (or are moving to New Jersey!), it's best to accept your offer while you pursue other options. Accepting the seat you were offered will not impact your ability to move off the waitlist at another school or to apply again in a second round. May 27 is the deadline to accept an offer and pre-register at the school. May 20 is still the deadline to submit your application for Round 2. 

Inside Korean schools: Secret to success?

Written by Clara Hemphill Wednesday, 04 May 2016 11:53

As a biology teacher at a high-poverty high school in Los Angeles, Taylor Wichmanowski was impressed that his Korean-speaking students—including those newly arrived in the United States—seemed to do so much better academically than most of their classmates.

He knew that South Korea not only had the world's highest student scores on international tests; it also had the lowest proportion of low-performing kids anywhere. Even poor Korean children did well.

He wondered: Is there a secret formula—one that can that be imported to the United States? With the encouragement of his Korean-born wife, he secured a Fulbright fellowship to visit South Korean schools, interview teachers, and bring home any lessons he might learn.

Q: Do you recommend that we send colleges our child's first round of ACT scores? Of course, we don't know how he did, but he seemed to feel confident about it. In addition, his practice test scores had him scoring at the 98th percentile.

A: You do not say if your child is a high school junior—I will assume that. I do not think it is healthy to start studying for, or taking, the standardized tests before that (although I know the PSAT is usually given to 10th graders).

My first reaction to your sending the scores to colleges is: Why? And the second question would be: Where? Do you already have a list of possible colleges? It's a little early to have a final list.

All 31 city school districts will offer gifted and talented (G&T) elementary school programs next fall—although in districts 7, 12, 16 and 23, G&T will begin in 3rd grade, not kindergarten. In response to the clamor around the city for more programs in poor and primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods, the Department of Education (DOE) announced today that it will open the 3rd grade G&T classes in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, areas which have not had G&T programs in recent years because too few students earned qualifying scores on citywide tests.

Current 2nd-graders in these districts who apply will be evaluated for G&T based on "multiple measures" such as academic performance, attendance, curiousity, motivation and being a fast learner. 

All 2nd-graders may apply, said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield, but "specific outreach will be done to families of students who are above grade level to encourage them to apply." 

"It's a fantastic idea," said Robin Aronow, a social worker and schools consultant in Manhattan. "The advantage of it, in particular in those districts, is that you have teacher recommendations rather than being dependent on a kid doing well on a test ... you're able to take into account what kids are demonstrating in school."

Q: I was waitlisted at my top school (Cornell), as well as two other schools (UPenn and Dartmouth). Realistically, what are my chances of getting into Cornell from their waitlist? My major is biomedical engineering (with a minor in animal science) and I am female. I got into my "targets" and "safeties" but none of them offer biomedical engineering AND animal science, and quite frankly, I just don't like them.

A: Being on a waitlist is a tough situation. You don't have a final answer and yet you still need to enroll somewhere by May 1. Sometimes colleges never take anyone from their waitlists, and at other times, when they do take applicants, it seems random.

It's actually not completely random, and you do have some power here. But, just as with any admissions decision, there are no guarantees.