New York City has been called one of the most segregated school systems in the country, but some schools buck the trend and enroll a mix of children of different races and income levels.

InsideSchools visited more than 80 racially and economically integrated elementary schools in the past year. On October 26, we will present our findings about what makes these schools successful, the challenges they face, and the lessons they offer for the rest of the city. A panel of school leaders will discuss their experiences with successful integration.

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by Karra Puccia

During 10 months of the year, hundreds of thousands of New York City kids eat free school breakfasts and lunches. These meals constitute a vital lifeline for families with already-stretched food budgets. So for many such families, the June 28th last day of public school classes may be less about planning summer fun for the kids and more about facing a serious months-long gap in their nutrition.

It doesn't have to be that way. Each year, the federal Summer Food Service Program (which New York City's Department of Education administers under the name "NYC Summer Meals") provides free breakfasts and lunches to all kids 18 and younger—without registration, documents or ID required. From June 29th—the first full day of summer school vacation—right through September 2nd, Summer Meals will be offered weekdays at public schools, Parks Department outdoor pools, New York City Housing Authority complexes, libraries, food pantries, soup kitchens, community organizations and other locations throughout the city. There will also be four mobile food trucks providing meals seven days a week.

Unfortunately, the Summer Meals program can seem like the world's best-kept secret. Food Bank For New York City is in a position to know. We serve nearly 1.4 million people—almost one out of every five New New Yorkers –through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens and community-based charities. And our October 2013 report, "Hunger's New Normal: Redefining Emergency in Post-Recession New York City," which was based on interviews with more than 1,200 people using food pantries and soup kitchens in all five boroughs, found that a whopping two-thirds of families using those resources don't take advantage of Summer Meals. The number one reason? They don't even know about it.

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Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Monica Disare on June 27, 2016

When people think of Coney Island, they often picture a beachline with brightly colored roller coasters and hot dog stands, but high school teacher Lane Rosen sees it a laboratory for the next generation of marine scientists.

"People don't realize there's 567 miles of coastline in New York City," Rosen said. "There's tens of thousands of jobs, but we're not training anybody for any of them."

Rosen and a group of teachers in Coney Island have a radical plan to transform education in their neighborhood: build a marine science pipeline that helps guide a student all the way from the first day of elementary school through college or into a career.

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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?"

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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."

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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. 

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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."

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There's been a lot of talk on the Upper West Side about "controlled choice" as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in the elementary schools. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.

The benefit is this: everyone, regardless of their address or income, would get a shot at some of the most popular elementary schools in the district that runs from 59th Street to 122nd Street. Controlled choice puts a thumb on the scale for low-income children who want to attend a middle class school (or middle class children who want to attend a high-poverty school).

But there is a crippling drawback: Controlled choice is, in essence, a form of rationing. By itself, it does nothing to improve the quality of schools—or to increase the number of schools to which parents willingly send their children.

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Kindergarten letters went out today to the more than 69,000 families of 5-year-olds who applied by January 20 for admission to kindergarten in September, 2016. Seventy-one percent of the applicants got an offer from their first choice, similar to last year's 72 percent, according to the Department of Education. Another 13 percent received one of their top three choices. Families could apply to up to 12 schools using an online application.

About 10 percent of applicants—7,237 families—didn't receive offers to any of the schools listed on their application. Some received offers to their zoned school even though they didn't list it. In the three districts where there are no zoned schools, and in overcrowded areas where applicants were edged out of their zoned schools, students were offered slots in another district school.

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Got a child born in 2011? Get your kindergarten application in by Wednesday, Jan. 20. The original due date of Jan. 15 was extended to give more parents a chance to get their applications in.

Full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—in New York City for all children who turn 5 during the calendar year. Children have the right to attend their zoned school (space permitting) and most do, but you may apply to other schools as well. You may apply to up to 12 schools online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center. You'll find out in March where your child is accepted.

If you haven't already, pick up an elementary school directory for your borough, neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. 

Here are answers to some common questions and misconceptions!

What should I do before I apply?

Visit the school! You want to see the school to see if it's a good fit.  Watch our short video: "What to look for on a school tour." Check a school's website or call the parent coordinator to see when tours and open houses are scheduled. The DOE lists some tour dates here. Read the school's profile on Insideschools and check out InsideStats. Do teachers recommend the school to parents? What's the average class size? Is bullying a problem? If you're still uncertain of whether it's a good fit, talk to parents on the playground and read the comments on our profile pages. 

How many schools should I apply to?

Apply to as many schools as you are interested in. There's no strategic advantage in listing just one school. The key is to rank the schools in the order that you like them. Do not list any schools you are wary about. If you want your child to attend your zoned school, list that first—or only list the zoned school. If you are concerned about overcrowding and being sent to another school, list your next favorite school to ensure that you are not assigned to a school you did not select. Keep in mind that all schools first accommodate their zoned kids before accepting others. (The eight admissions priorities for zoned schools are spelled out in the directories and in the Chancellor's Regulation 101.)

Most schools are able to accept all zoned students and if you are not accepted in the first round, you are automatically placed on a waitlist. In fact, if you list other schools, and do not get an offer from any of them, you will remain on a waitlist of schools you ranked higher than the school where you were placed. Last year some waitlisted families got offers from out-of-zone and out-of-district schools starting in June and continuing into October. If you do your research, remain persistent and are willing to wait, you may end up with several choices.

What if I don't like my zoned school?

Consider unzoned and charter schools as well as other zoned schools in your district. (Three districts have no zoned schools: District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville.)

You don't have to apply to your zoned school but keep in mind that if you are not accepted by any other school, you will most likely be assigned to your zoned school. However, you will be waitlisted at the other schools and there is usually lots of movement in the spring as families accept offers to gifted programs, private schools or move. Keep in touch with schools you are interested in to make sure they know you still want a spot.

You can see in the kindergarten directory which schools had space for students outside of the zone last year and which had a waitlist after the first round of admissions; it's not likely to be too different this year unless there has been rezoning.

This admissions season, the DOE is promoting a new pilot program intended to increase diversity in city schools. Seven schools participating in the program will give increased admissions priority to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, are English language learners or are in the child welfare system. “Students learn from the diverse experiences and cultures of their fellow students, and it’s important that our schools match the diversity of our City," Chancellor Carmen Farina said in a DOE press release. 

How do I apply to a dual language program?

More than 100 schools offer dual language programs and the list of schools offering programs is growing. In dual language, students receive instruction in both English and another language. Spanish, Mandarin and French are among the most common languages offered but others include Korean, Japanese, Polish, Arabic and Russian. Next fall there will be a German program starting at PS 17 in Williamsburg! You apply directly to the dual language program on your application. The goal for dual language is to have a 50-50 split of native English speakers and native speakers of the other language offered. Zoned students receive preference in admission, but out of zone students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting. 

What about gifted and talented programs?

The admissions timeline, and the application, for gifted and talented programs is different than general kindergarten admissions. Families signed up in November for G&T testing in January and February. The results of the tests will not be sent to families until early April. Qualifying students then apply to programs and will find out in late May if they have got a spot.

Even if you are applying to a G&T program for your child, you must still apply to kindergarten by Jan. 15. If your child is later accepted to a G&T program you'll have a choice of the school you were matched with on the application and the G&T program.

What if my child has special education needs?

Children with special needs also go through the general application process; every school is supposed to offer needed special education services, although in practice this doesn't always happen. Watch our video: "Touring schools for your special needs child." If your child needs a wheelchair accessible site, you can note that on the application.

What if I move after the application due date or I miss the deadline?

If you move after you submit your application but before kindergarten offers are made, you may call the Department of Education, or visit a welcome center, to give them your new address. You will not be able to submit a new application at that time but the DOE will most likely assign you to your new zoned school. If you don't like that placement, you can reach out to other schools in the late spring to ask to be placed on a waiting list.

If you miss the deadline for applying, late applications will still be accepted online, in person and over the phone after Jan. 15, almost until letters are sent in mid-March, according to the Enrollment Office, but you will receive your offer later in the spring. Those who wait until later in the spring or summer to apply, will go directly to their zoned school, or school of interest, to register.

How do I apply to a charter school?

You apply to charter schools separately from district schools and most applications are due by April 1, 2016. You can apply to multiple charter schools on a single application. Find the link to the common application on the New York City Charter School Center's website. Applications are also available on school websites or may be handed out in person when you visit the school. 

More questions?

The information in the directory is pretty comprehensive and straightforward but if you still have questions, or want to talk to a DOE official in person, call the DOE's Enrollment Office at 718-935-2009 and see the DOE's kindergarten page for more information.


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