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After all the hype and hustle of searching for and getting into a New York City public high school, it can be disheartening to find out that for some kids and parents the search continues.
Not the search for another high school, although there are some who brave the arduous process again and transfer. I’m talking about the search to supplement what is often missing in even some of the most coveted high schools—from advanced math and science classes to art or a foreign language.
Savvy parents and kids will seek out everything from individual tutoring to after school art, music and dance programs to courses at CUNY colleges or elsewhere.
Wouldn’t it be nice if one public high school could have it all?
(Note: Post updated on Sept. 17, 2014)
Mayor Bill de Blasio has hinted that his administration will change the admissions procedures sometime in the future—not this year—at the five specialized high schools established during the Bloomberg administration, which are not governed by state law: Brooklyn Latin; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; and Staten Island Tech.
The changes would address concerns that declining numbers of black and Latino students are accepted at the elite specialized schools that use the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole criterion for admission.
No changes are planned for this year, and the SHSAT given on Oct. 25 and 26 will be basically the same as it's always been.
Even in the future, it's not likely that the SHSAT will be eliminated for the three older, exam-based specialized schools—Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science—because that would require action in Albany. Some legislators have introduced bills to change the 1971 law that establishes the exam as the only admission criterion for these three schools, but the chance of passage appears slim. However, it looks likely that the test itself will change. The city's Department of Education has issued a request for proposals "to provide a standardized testing program which is designed to select students for admission into the specialized high schools." The new test would come into effect in 2015 and proposals are due by Oct. 23, 2014. There is a pre-proposal conference on Sept.29, 2014, at 10:30 am at 131 Livingston Street, Room 610 in Brooklyn.
There's been a rush to sign up for pre-kindergarten in the past few days. Yet, under Mayor DeBlasio's huge pre-k expansion effort there are still some good options among a variety of pre-k choices—regular public schools, charter schools and programs housed in community organizations. (These organizations, such as churches, temples, libraries and YMCAs are called Community Based Early Childhood Centers.) And, even at this late stage, the Department of Education is adding new seats.
For a complete list of programs go to the Department of Education website. To find out if a program still has seats, you'll have to call directly.
Here are some promising new programs that still had seats when we called just before Labor Day. Call first, and then go in person to sign up, bringing your child, their 2010 birth certificate, their vaccination card, and two proofs of residence.
St. Johns' Chrysostom is still enrolling. Parents rave about the pre-k in online reviews.
New York City Montessori Charter School in the South Bronx offers a promising vision: hands-on learning that prepares the brain for long-term understanding. There was a wait list with about 10 names when we called.
PS 307's expanding pre-kindergarten program is attracting children of middle class families in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights. Students with special needs from throughout the district come for the school's excellent ASD Nest program. Principal Roberta Davenport, who grew up in the nearby Farragut projects, has forged partnerships with city and neighborhood agencies as well as artists and entrepreneurs.
PS 120 was called "well developed" on last year's Quality Review, the highest rating the city gives to a school. Although test scores have a ways to go, teachers say Principal Liza Caraballo is a good manager and the school is safe and orderly, with zero bullying, according to school surveys.
Park Slope (District 15)
The Department of Education opened seven new pre-k classrooms at the recently closed Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School. The 126 new seats are reserved for children living in District 15. The seats will now be assigned according to a lottery. The pre-k's will be located at 19th Street and Prospect Park West but the lottery will be held a few blocks away at PS 10, at 511 Seventh Ave. near 17th Street. Applications will be accepted through September 2nd from 9 am–3 pm, and from 6 pm–9 pm Thursday, August 28. They will be announcing weekend hours today. Laura Scott, principal of the highly regarded PS 10, will supervise the Bishop Ford program.
East New York
There is still space at PS 346, which has better test scores than most schools in District 19, a positive climate, and is making improvements each year.
PS 212 is a safe school with happy teachers and strong leadership according to school surveys. Teachers create a "comfortable" learning environment at this "well developed" school, according to the city's Quality Review.
PS 361 is an early childhood (pre-k–2) program with a promising new leader who is setting a higher academic bar than in the past in order to prepare children for 3rd grade and beyond. Teachers use points and small rewards to motivate children to do their best and teach character education lessons three times a week. School surveys indicate the school is safe and welcoming.
Lower East Side
PS 188 had three spots when we called. Teachers are overwhelmingly happy with the leadership of Principal Mary Pree and 100 percent of the staff report that the school is safe and orderly.
PS 64 is a small school on Avenue B that serves many children of local Latino families. Dedicated teachers draw out children in group discussions and help them learn to express themselves with ease. The administration has been working to increase the arts, recently adding a new visual arts studio and a new dance studio.
Racially diverse PS 171 is making dramatic academic progress under the leadership of Principal Anne Bussel. The numbers of children scoring a 3 or 4, the highest scores, on the English Language Arts exam, doubled from 2013 to 2014. Attendance has also improved under Bussel's leadership, and most teachers say the school is safe and orderly.
Some of the other programs were filled when we called, but there may be movement in the next week or so. Do get on a waiting list if there's a spot you really want. (Evan Pellegrino contributed to this report.)
School starts on Sept. 4 and for high school juniors and seniors, this means it's also time to start thinking about college. Here's my advice on what to focus on as you look ahead to college.
Juniors: The most important thing you can do for yourself this year is to concentrate on your studies. Take the most challenging courses you can, and strive to do well. If you are involved in some extra-curricular activities you enjoy, stick with them. If you have not become involved yet – join something! This does not have to be at your high school; it can also be in your community. You will look (and feel!) more balanced if you do something besides study. But don't obsess about college applications yet – most high schools do not begin college programs until the spring of junior year. One more thing: READ. I cannot stress more emphatically that students who read widely and constantly fare much better, in the college process and overall, than students who read little.
Students who are new to New York City public schools or who are re-entering city schools after a time away, may register at special temporary enrollment centers beginning on Aug. 27 in all boroughs. The centers are open Monday-Friday, 8 am to 3 pm through Sept. 12, with the exception of Sept. 1, Labor Day. Regular enrollment centers will be closed from Aug. 22 to Sept. 15.
All high school students should go to the enrollment centers, along with any elementary and middle school students who do not have a zoned school. Elementary and middle school students who have a zoned school should wait until the first day of school, Sept. 4, to register at the school, the Education Department said.
All special education students who have a current IEP (Individualized Education Plan) may enroll directly at their zoned schools on Sept. 4. Students without a current New York City IEP, need to go to an enrollment center or to a special education site, for those with more restrictive needs.
Every year, teachers must cajole students into submitting family-income forms, which entitles needy students to subsidized lunches and many schools to federal funds.
This fall, that annual rite could become much harder for some schools. Because the city will for the first time offer free lunch to all middle-school students, the children will receive meals regardless of whether they turn in the forms—but schools could lose out on tens of thousands of dollars if they don’t.
The education department warned principals of this possibility in a memo Tuesday, which noted that completion of the household-income forms is tied to Title I grants, which help schools with disadvantaged students pay for extra teachers, computers, tutoring, and other extra services.
“Students will receive free lunch whether or not their families have completed the form, but your school might receive less funding or lose Title I eligibility altogether if very few parents complete the form,” the memo said. “In addition, the success and possible expansion of the meals program will rely on the ability of schools to collect these forms from parents.”
It's crunch time for pre-kindergarten. In just a couple of weeks, the city will open 2,000 new, full-day classrooms in schools and community centers across the five boroughs. If the city gets it right, the pre-k expansion could set a national standard for universal, high-quality instruction for 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, it could also be the cause of death for programs serving those 4-year-olds' younger siblings.
Though it has stood alone in the political spotlight this year, universal pre-k is not New York City's only early education program. For decades, the city has held contracts with hundreds of childcare providers—ranging from home-based daycares to nationally accredited preschools—to care for low-income kids from 6 weeks through 4 years old. In its current iteration, the subsidized childcare system has the capacity to serve 37,000 children.
National studies show that early childhood programs are critical for kids. The care a child receives while she's an infant or toddler—long before she's old enough to go to school—can impact the way her brain grows, potentially changing the trajectory of the rest of her life.
Bill de Blasio had been mayor for less than four months when the city's elementary and middle school students took standardized tests this past April. And, according to numbers released on Thursday, more than 68 percent of students who took the tests this year failed to meet state standards in English; 64 percent fell short in math.
Still, the scores are somewhat higher than they were when de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, announced test results a year ago. To announce this year's numbers, de Blasio along with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña held an ebullient press conference on Thursday, predicting that the administration's reforms would propel students towards bigger gains in the year ahead.
De Blasio made the announcement outside the Brooklyn Brownstone School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which, he said, saw the percentage of its students scoring proficient—generally regarded as a level 3 or 4 score—on the English test rise from 27.5 in 2013 to 44.1 percent in 2014. The number of students meeting state standards in math also increased substantially.
Standing with school principal Nakia Haskins, de Blasio said Brooklyn Brownstone developed a program aimed at having students "think analytically—not just take a test ... This is a deeper approach."
"This school is a trendsetter for things that are starting to happen citywide," de Blasio said. In particular, he cited improved teacher support and training. "You can see the difference it’s making when our teachers are supported in their efforts to help students get to the root of things."
De Blasio readily conceded many students still fall short on that measure. But he said he hopes the types of programs in effect at Brooklyn Brownstone, along with more professional development for teachers, the expansion of pre-k, increasing the number of afterschool programs for middle school students and creating community schools offering a variety of services and supports to students and their families would improve academic performance across the city.
"Test scores are one indicator of progress," de Blasio said, "but tests like this are only one measure. And I'll say this when scores are good and when they're not so good."
Certainly the tests will have less clout than they once did. Indications are that the city's progress reports for individual schools will put less emphasis on test scores. The state has barred selective middle and high schools from using the scores as the sole means for determining which students they admit. In response, the Department of Education has committees working on new admissions procedures, which are expected to issue reports by the end of September, Fariña said.
Education department officials at the press conference said students will be able to access their scores the last week in August.
In light of persistently low scores among many black and Hispanic students, particularly boys, Fariña said the department would create more single-sex schools, such as a new branch of the Eagle Academy for Young Men slated to open on Staten Island, and would improve guidance services. She said an emphasis on technology, while beneficial to all students, might particularly help these low-scoring boys.
Fariña said she was encouraged by the decline in the number of students scoring at Level 1, meaning the student is "well below proficient." In 2014, 34.7 percent of children were at level 1, compared to 36.4 percent in 2013. In math, the percentage dropped to 33.9 percent from 36.8 percent. Students with a level 2 are considered approaching proficiency and are thought to be on track to graduating high school, though perhaps not to being "college and career ready."
While the sharp drop in test scores last year—the first year that the tests reflected the new Common Core standards—spurred opposition to the Common Core, de Blasio expressed strong support for the standards. "This is a new standard and a higher standard and the right standard," he said.
New York City students did slightly better on state standardized test this spring than they did in 2013, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the English language arts (ELA) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today.
In New York City, 34.5 percent of students met or exceeded state standards as measured by the math test, up from 30.1 percent last year. For the state as a whole, 35.8 percent passed the math test, compared to 31.2 in 2013.
ELA scores for the state remained largely flat, with pass rates—the number of children getting a level 3 or 4—increasing by a tenth of a percentage point, from 31.3 percent to 31.4 percent. New York City students, while still scoring below the statewide average, saw a greater increase in English scores, as 29.4 percent scored a level 3 or 4 as compared with 27.4 percent in 2013.
Newcomers to New York City, who are entering 9th or 10th grade in September, must register by Tuesday, August 19, if they want to take the summer exam for admission to one of the selective specialized high schools, or to audition for the arts school, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts. Families may register and pick up an admissions ticket for the test and audition at any Department of Education Enrollment Office.
Eligible students are those who are entering 9th or 10th grade for the first time, moved to New York City after Nov. 1, 2013 and did not take the specialized high school exam (SHSAT) or audition for LaGuardia last fall.
You'll need these documents to register: proof of residence, proof of birth, immunization records and a final 2014 report card.
The exam will be given on Aug. 26; the auditions for LaGuardia will be held on Aug. 28. But you must be registered and have an admissions ticket to be admitted to the test or audition. You should find out whether you are accepted before school starts on Sept. 4.
Entrance to the specialized high schools is highly competitive. Most successful applicants spend a good deal of time preparing. See the 2014-2015 Specialized High School Handbook for a sample test and audition guidelines.