Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
The Department of Education is forcing most of the city’s selective high schools to accept a certain percentage of special needs students, even, in some cases, if they don't meet the eligibility requirements. Both general and special education students were assigned to top performing arts programs even though they didn't audition, infuriating some parents whose children did.
Beacon High School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Professional Performing Arts are among the selective schools that have been assigned special needs students outside the regular admissions process, school officials said; Frank Sinatra High School and Talented Unlimited were among the selective schools that have been assigned general education students as well.
In all, the Department of Education has assigned students not chosen by the schools to about 70 different screened programs for the 2013-14 academic year, said Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy. Sternberg said most of these programs were assigned special needs children; a few schools with unfilled seats were also assigned general education students. In a follow-up story, the New York Post reported: "about 960 general-ed kids and 300 special-ed students were assigned," to 71 schools.
This policy is part of an effort to give children with disabilities more access to demanding academic and arts programs and to ensure that screened schools get the "right number" of students, said Sternberg.
“This is about equity and access,” Sternberg said in a telephone interview. “We want to make sure that all students across the spectrum have access to these very fine schools.”
Q: I was rejected by my #1 college choice – which I admit was a “reach” school. But what I don’t get is this: I was accepted by five other colleges, including another “reach” school! So maybe the college that turned me down made a mistake. What do you think my chances are if I ask them to reconsider? Should I tell them which other colleges have accepted me?
A: It is very, very rare for a college admissions office to change a decision. Decisions are always made by more than one person, and written notes are kept that explain (internally) why the decision was made. Unless crucial information was genuinely overlooked or considered in error (e.g. the admissions committee was looking at the wrong transcript when it voted – and this type of mistake rarely happens, if ever), they made the decision they wanted to make. Admissions committees are quite experienced in what they do, and they strive to make the best decisions they can for their college or university.
In what's become an unfortunate annual occurence for New York City families, more than 2,300 children are waitlisted for kindergarten seats at 105 schools, according to the Education Department. Two of the hardest hit neighborhoods are Sunset Park in District 15 and Corona in District 24 in Queens. In both neighborhoods, the DOE is trying a new strategy to deal with overcrowding: opening “overflow” schools to absorb some of the waitlisted kindergarteners.
One overflow school will open in Sunset Park in the fall with three kindergarten classes. The new school, Sunset Park Avenues, is unzoned and will only accept children who are assigned to the school after landing on waitlists at other area schools.
“A portion of waitlisted students from 15K094 [PS 94] and 15K169 [PS 169] may receive alternate offers” to Sunset Park Avenues, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed. The families of kindergartners assigned to the school will get letters from the DOE’s Office of Enrollment, he said.
For the first time in four years, fewer than 1,000 incoming kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on the city's gifted and talented exams, but there are still more than twice as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs. Of the 13,559 rising kindergartners who sat for G&T assessments in January and February, just under seven percent -- 921 -- scored in the 99th percentile on the nationally-normed tests.
Despite the introduction of a non-verbal exam meant to increase the number of low-income children who qualify for G&T programs, the gap in performance persists between rich and poor districts.
Scoring between the 97th-99th percentile on the G&T assessments means a child is eligible for a citywide program. But there are fewer than 400 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.
As the day of my son’s Turning 5 meeting drew closer, a cloud of anxiety hovered over our New York City apartment. I had braced for a fight several months before, when our school-appointed social worker refused to observe Noodle at pre-K because she was “too busy.” Just applying to our zoned school had sapped all my strength. The parent coordinator took ill one week before the DOE deadline and had not left anyone in charge.
Thankfully, by the last hour of the last day for applications, a living breathing human was able to take my paperwork and I signed up Noodle for kindergarten. After an in-person meeting and more emails with the social worker, we seemed on better terms. She agreed to visit Noodle at preschool, and gave me the name of a behavior specialist who turned out to be quite wonderful.
So by the time I braved snowfall in late March to reach our IEP meeting, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. Everyone seemed to be on the same page for next year: an ICT classroom (a mix of gen ed and special needs kids with two teachers, one of whom has a special ed degree) and occupational therapy. I’d already waged a war in my own mind: Will ICT be academically challenging enough for my chess-playing 4-year-old? Will being in a class with other struggling kids give him more opportunities to model bad behavior? But I’d moved past these stereotypes. I’d done my research, spoken to parents of ICT students and talked Noodle’s teachers’ ears off about what was best for him. I was ready for a truce.
On April 6 and 7, 8th and 9th graders who did not get a match in the first round of high school admissions -- or are unhappy with the school they were assigned to-- may attend the Round 2 Fair (pdf) at Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus in Manhattan from 11 am to 2 pm. Families will meet representatives from the 20 or so new high schools opening in September, plus established schools that still have openings.
Some of the new schools are also holding open houses before (and, in some cases, after) the April 12 application deadline; either in their assigned buildings or at different venues. Here's a listing of the open houses we know about so far. We'll add to it as we get new dates. (Remember that dates may change so confirm with the school's website, or by phone, before heading out.)
My inbox has been flooded with questions about high school acceptances since 8th graders must decide by April 12 what high school offer to accept, or which school to apply to in Round 2. I've received several questions from families of students who were accepted by specialized high schools in addition to another school; others from parents who wonder why their children did not make the cut. This week I'll answer three of them.
Q: We have a dilemma, my daughter is now in Hunter and can continue there for high school. But she also got into Stuyvesant. Hunter is a long commute, Stuy is close to home; Hunter is smaller, less competitive and she has friends there. Stuy is stronger in Science, which is her strength. It also has a range of extra curricular activities that Hunter cannot match. Would it be folly to leave Hunter for a larger, less personal school?
You have a happy dilemma, and you have certainly laid out the pros and cons. It is really up to you and your daughter to make the decision. Have you been to see Stuyvesant? Did you get a good feeling about the atmosphere , kids, and teachers there? Are there any other kids your daughter knows going too? Keep in mind that students at large schools -- such as Stuyvesant -- often find their own community of frends and supportive faculty that make it seem smaller-- whether in sports, the math club, or SING. Yet, many families in 6-12 schools find it's easier just to stay put!
If you’re unhappy with your neighborhood school, you may want to enter a lottery for a charter school. The deadline is April 1--so hurry. In most cases you can submit an application online. Get an application on the New York City Charter School Center website, on the individual schools' websites or at the school. (Some charter schools are open this week, even though the public schools are on Spring break.)
But which school? Here are tips for making your choice.
For the third year in a row, Baruch College High School had more applicants than any other school in the city, according to the Department of Education.
Nearly 7,500 8th graders applied for 120 seats at Baruch, a selective high school in Gramercy Park that only accepts District 2 students. It had 1,000 more kids apply than in 2012. Two-thirds of Baruch students are Asian. The high school has a 100 percent graduation rate and solid college prep.
Pace High School in Chinatown and Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the Upper East Side were the second and third most popular choices.
Pace, which opened in 2004, accepts students citywide and does not screen its applicants. It had 6,040 students apply for 108 seats. About nine in 10 students graduated from Pace in 2012, and it does well with special education students. The student body is mostly African American and Hispanic. Of the top five most sought-after programs, Pace is the only unscreened school.
Eleanor Roosevelt, a selective school on the Upper East Side with a nearly perfect 2012 graduation rate, received 5,733 applicantsfor 125 seats. ELRO gives preference to students from District 2 and a majority of its students are white. It has a low poverty rate compared to other schools in the city: fewer than 1 in 5 students qualify for free lunch.
Because the DOE released a list of the top 20 high school programs, Midwood High School in Brooklyn appeared twice. Its selective humanities program was the 8th most popular, with 4,361 applicants. And 4,343 kids ranked Midwood's selective medical science institute, making that the 10th most sought-after program.
Thirteen of the city's most popular programs are selective high schools, which usually have high graduation rates because they weed out applicants who performed poorly in middle school. And five of the new small high schools opened under Mayor Bloomberg were among the 20 most popular.
One of those new small schools, the perennially popular Food and Finance barely made the "most popular" cut this year. Its unscreened culinary arts program had 1,000 fewer applicants this year than last, dropping it from the 10th most popular program to the 19th most popular with 3,600 8th graders applying for the school's 100 seats.
Download the DOE's list of top 20 schools here [PDF]. These 20 high school programs received the most applications out of all the 400-plus high schools (and countless programs) in the city excluding the nine specialized high schools. About 28,000 kids took the Specialized High School Admissions Test for a shot at the exam schools, which offered seats to 5,229 incoming freshman for the 2013-14 school year.
The top 20 list includes the number of 8th graders who listed the schools anywhere on their applications – it doesn't indicate how many students ranked the schools first. The DOE did not release the number of applicants for any other school.