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We mourn the passing of Judy Baum

Written by Insideschools staff Sunday, 22 December 2013 10:08

Judy Baum, who toiled for nearly 40 years to help every New York City child receive a good public education, died Friday, December 20, at the end of another day of doing the work she loved.

In what turned out to be her final blog post for Insideschools, she encouraged students and parents to visit museums, libraries and parks over the holiday break, providing a helpful link to free activities.

Only hours after the post appeared online Friday, she died of a heart attack. She was 77.

"She really was a model New York citizen—always guided by the belief that she had a perpetual stake in the success of public education," said Laura Zingmond, a friend and colleague at Insideschools. "She wanted every kid to have a safe and nurturing place to go to school."

Ask Judy: What to do over the holiday break?

Written by Judy Baum Friday, 20 December 2013 10:36

Holidays are upon us! If you are one of the lucky ones to have vacation days along with your kids -- or if you are a high school student used to travelling around the city on your own, here are some ways to enjoy your time.

Catch up on museums! This list of free museum days [PDF] was compiled by The Fund for Public Schools. It includes 28 museums, large and small, in all boroughs.

Here are some special events and exhibits, forwarded to us by District 3 Family Advocate DJ Sheppard:

For the final event of the year at El Museo del Barrio on 1230 Fifth Ave (between 104th and 105th Sts), kids can ring in the holiday season by making a crown for Three Kings Day, listening to stories and taking in a concert by El Sistema. Free for all ages on Saturday 12/21 at 11 am. 

The 31st Annual Wreath Exhibition at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park (at 830 Fifth Ave at 64th Street) is open Monday-Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, except for city holidays.

"The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter." The main branch of the New York Public Library displays an exhibit of books from its collection celebrating the rich history of children's literature. Fifth Ave. at 42nd St. 

City Harvest Gingerbread Extravaganza at Le Parker Meridien includes gingerbread structures of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central, on display through Jan. 6, at Le Parker Meridien (119 West 56 Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues). Visit the exhibit for free or submit your vote for the most creative confection for $1. All proceeds will go to City Harvest and all voters will be entered to win a five-night stay at the Parker Palm Springs. 

New York Transit Museum's Holiday Train Show in Grand Central Station: Grand Central Station's 12th annual Holiday Train Show includes a 34--foot-long display, festooned with miniature versions of city landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. Open through Feb. 23 in the shuttle passage off the main concourse at 42nd Street & Park Ave.

Other ideas?

Don't forget city parks. Snow makes its own fun, but there are plenty of other attractions: Ice skating, bird watching, zoos, playgrounds special events and indoor recreation centers as well. The Department of Youth and Community Development lists community centers and other local groups that offer activities for kids during school vacations.

And my favorite: check out the fanciful decorations in department store windows, and on shops and buildings up and down the main street in your borough.

We'll be back in the office and online on Jan. 2, 2014!

Happy holidays to all.

Give to Insideschools this holiday season

Written by Clara Hemphill Thursday, 19 December 2013 10:33


Did help you this year?

You may have attended one of our workshops, or called us for advice on how to find a good school for your child.

Perhaps you read one of our hundreds of school profiles, or watched a video about what to look for on school tour.

Some 160,000 New Yorkers turn to Insideschools each month. Now, at this holiday time, we are turning to you. Donations to Insideschools are tax deductible and will help us help other parents in 2014.

Insideschools is based at The New School, which provides us office space and a modest amount of in-kind support – but we depend entirely on private donations and foundation support to fund our day-to-day work informing parents, students, and everyone else about New York City’s schools.

As New York City enters a new phase of city and school leadership, you can count on Insideschools to keep you abreast of all the changes. Can we count on you to help?

Please take a moment to DONATE NOW as generously as you can, and please forward this email to others who care about our kids’ education. With your support, we can keep working hard to make sure all of our children get the best education New York City can provide.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2014.

Clara Hemphill and the Insideschools staff

Donate Now

"Thank you so much for the work you've put into this very comprehensive tool that has become my savior."

Brandice Reyes, East Harlem parent

Pol still fighting to fill G&T seats

Written by Anna Schneider Monday, 16 December 2013 13:51

Politicians and parents in November petitioned the Education Department to let qualified children fill Gifted & Talented seats that remained empty after the October enrollment deadline. In a reply last week, the DOE refused the request, saying it would be "extremely disruptive" to schools and families to allow children to enroll now.

"Office of Student Enrollment (OSE) conducted multiple rounds of waitlist offers for available seats at G&T programs citywide," wrote a DOE official in a response to Councilwoman Gail Brewer and Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell's November letter requesting the DOE allow qualified students access to empty G&T seats at two Upper West Side schools.

The DOE said that they had conducted "multiple rounds" of waitlist offers after too few families accepted offers to fill seats at PS 163 and PS 165. 

O'Donnell disputes the DOE's explanation. "I have heard from students who scored as high as the 96th to 99th percentiles on the test, and were still given no offer, although they ranked PS 165 and PS 163 as top choices in the initial process," he wrote in response to the DOE's letter.  

O'Donnell will continue to press the DOE to open up seats. He says that schools and families do not find the post-October 31st enrollment disruptive. 

Karen Alicea-Dunn has been trying to get her son, Dylan, who scored in the 96th percentile on the G&T exam, into PS 163's G&T program for two months. In November, the school told Dunn that Dylan could enroll in the general education program -- but not the G&T. Dunn isn't worried about switching elementary school programs mid-year. "I'm ready," she said.

In late November, WNYC reported that at least 24 schools citywide still have room for more kids in their G&T programs.

Download a copy of the DOE's letter response to Brewer & O'Donnell here [PDF].

Download a copy of O'Donnell's letter here [PDF].

Message to next chancellor: Bring in parents!

Written by Pamela Wheaton Monday, 16 December 2013 10:39

by Jane Heaphy, executive director of Learning Leaders

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's goal of increasing parental involvement in schools is exciting! This is what we have been waiting to hear.

Families have a vital role to play in our schools' success. Research shows that parents who understand the school system and know how to support education at home can contribute hugely to a child's development. That's why Learning Leaders builds family-school relationships, provides interactive workshops and trains parents to volunteer in NYC public schools.

While there is increased recognition of family involvement as a key factor in children's success, more effort is needed to bring in parents. The city's recent education budget cuts and the introduction of Common Core Standards make this more important than ever. A renewed focus on families would help our students and I look forward to hearing the next chancellor's plans.

HS Hustle: Should teens start school later?

Written by Liz Willen Friday, 13 December 2013 10:22

It may be a small step, but a Queens principal became something of a hero in my eyes when he acknowledged a reality of life in high-pressure New York City high schools: Kids are exhausted and need more sleep.

Townsend Harris Principal Anthony Barbetta came up with a new policy that forbids teachers from assigning homework one day of the week or giving tests on designated odd or even days, a New York Daily News story said.

"Maybe it will give [kids] more time to perform community service or participate in extracurriculars — or even get a little more sleep," Barbetta said of the new policy

Townsend Harris is one of the most highly regarded high schools in New York City, and students say the workload is formidable.

Really? ReadyGen Rebel for 3rd grade?

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 11 December 2013 17:26

by Sharon McCann-Doyle

My 3rd grade daughter still cries at Disney movies and is afraid to see Matilda on Broadway. So I was dismayed to discover that her school's reading list includes "Behind Rebel Lines", by Seymor Reit, part of the city's new reading curriculum called ReadyGen. It's a terrific book for middle-school students but completely inappropriate for 8-year-olds.

"Behind Rebel Lines" is a compelling story about Emma Edmonds, a woman who, disguised as a man, becomes a Civil War spy. The 127-page book explores issues of war, feminism and race and is full of emotional and historical complexity. The language is dense and the vocabulary is very advanced. But more troubling to me are the content and context.

At one point, Emma's friend and potential love interest is shot through the neck by a musket—a scary, violent scene. At another, Emma dresses as a slave to go behind enemy lines in scenes that introduce minstrels, black face, and the use of racial slurs. The vernacular reflects the era and social status of the book's characters. For example when introducing herself, disguised as a male slave, Emma says "Mah name Cuff, suh. Lookin' fo' Mistuh Prahvit Thompson. Ah b'lieve he wuk here?"

Insidestats: Help choosing middle schools

Written by Pamela Wheaton Monday, 09 December 2013 11:36

If you're a parent choosing a middle school, you want to know: Do the academics prepare kids for high school? Do the teachers recommend the school? Kids want to know: Does the school require uniforms? Are the other kids nice?

Now, just in time for this week's Dec. 13 application deadline, Insideschools has launched Insidestats for middle schools. Similar to Insidestats for high school, we have comprehensive data on 430 middle and secondary schools, including charter schools. You can see at a glance how big the classes are, whether kids think there are enough interesting programs and whether 8th graders take and pass Regents math and science exams.

A couple of years ago, we criticized the Department of Education's school Progress Reports for oversimplifying the strengths and weaknesses of each school with a single "A" to "F" grade. (Apparently Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio agrees with us, having said he'll do away with the simplistic letter grades.)

With Insidestats, we offer a more nuanced picture, because different schools are good at different things. Some schools take high-achieving kids and push them to ever greater heights. But others do a particularly good job with kids who need special education or English language instruction. Insidestats shows you the difference.

Take Mark Twain in Coney Island, which is open to students citywide. Everyone knows it's a terrific school that sends more graduates to specialized high schools than almost any other middle school. But maybe you didn't know that its students with special needs also fare better than the average city school. Or that 100 percent of the teachers say they recommend the school to parents. On the downside, students have to contend with larger-than-average class size.

Compare that with another popular citywide school: New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST). Class size here is lower, just about average for the city, but fewer teachers--82 percent --say they would recommend the school and only 28 percent think the principal is a good manager.

We hope Insidestats will help those of you still wondering which schools to rank on your middle school applications.

State spanks DOE over bad behavior

Written by Aimee Sabo Tuesday, 03 December 2013 11:52

Five-year-old J.P. started kindergarten at his neighborhood school in September. Like many kids, he had never been to school before. Two days into the year, his mother received a phone call from the assistant principal complaining that J.P.’s behavior was disrupting the class. His offense? Getting out of his seat and playing with his shoelaces.

While the rest of the class would attend the full day of school, J.P. would now only attend half-days indefinitely, the family was told. After consulting with Advocates for Children, his parents asked for a specific action plan to target J.P.'s behaviors so that he might be able to return to school full-time. At his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting in November, school staff told them, “We’re not behavior specialists.” 

The school’s actions were not only unfair; they were illegal. Schools are mandated by the state to perform "Functional Behavior Assessments" (FBAs) and develop "Behavior Intervention Plans" (BIPs) when the actions of a student with a disability or a student referred for an evaluation are impeding learning or leading to disciplinary action. The problem is, most school personnel (and parents) have no idea what these assessments are.

Ask Judy: Can my child start kindergarten late?

Written by Judy Baum Tuesday, 03 December 2013 10:14

Dear Judy,

I am concerned about the new kindergarten admissions process in regard to my young child. He has a late December birthday. I know I don't have to send him to kindergarten but what if he is not ready for first grade in the year he turns 6?

December child's mom

Dear December child's mom:

I know that there are lots of parents who are concerned that their children are too young to start kindergarten -- especially those who will still be four years old for the first three months of school.