A multiracial group of parents in Harlem is working to reinvent their neighborhood school — with none of the rancor that has pitted newcomers and longtime residents against one another in other parts of the city. If you want to see the school for yourself, go to an open house Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 9 am, at 425 W. 123rd Street.

The work by Black, Latino, Asian and White parents at PS 125 shows that integration is possible — and that parents working together can improve a school, even in a district with few good options. Insideschools spoke to three parents about the changes at their school.

“For a long time, it was all Black children here — nothing else,” said Kim Clinton, whose grandson is in the 2nd grade and whose children attended the school. “Then all of a sudden, the whole neighborhood is changing. We have White neighbors, we have Chinese, Japanese. I like it! It’s good to know about other people, other cultures.”

PS 125 has long had a popular pre-kindergarten program, but many parents chose other schools for kindergarten. That’s partly because the upper grades had a traditional approach to education, not the play-based or child-centered approach that many parents said they wanted. “There were so many parents looking for a progressive choice, but one didn’t exist in the district,” said Daiyu Suzuki the father of a 1st- and 3rd-grader.

“I remember parents would get together in the park and talk about ‘Where do we go?’’’ said Tomoi Zeimer, mother of a kindergartner. “Either it’s a super-expensive private school or a really low-rated public school. We thought, ‘Is there a way that we can go into a school and make it better?’”  

Over the past two years, parents lobbied the principal and superintendent to adopt a more progressive approach to teaching. The principal, Reginald Higgins, agreed, and enlisted Julie Zuckerman, the principal of Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights, to serve as a mentor. Higgins worked with Borough of Manhattan Community College to help revise curriculum and coach teachers. The new approaches seem to be working, and this year more pre-k parents opted to stay for kindergarten. Enrollment is inching up, from 193 in 2013–14 to 230 this fall.

The parents have succeeded in getting kids more access to the gym, and have reclaimed a community garden near the school. They are working to raise money to build a new library.  

“We haven’t seen a final product yet,” said Suzuki. “We’re a community in the making.”

“We have so many different people from different backgrounds. It’s nice to hear from the other side and try something different for a change,” said Clinton.

“You know, when we work on something together it becomes a really nice community,” said Zeimer.

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Kindergarten application season will soon be in full swing—just around the time you’ve digested the last of your leftover stuffing. All families with a child born in 2011 should apply between Dec. 7-Jan. 15, 2016. For most families, this means scheduling tours, pouring through Insideschools reviews and playing with elementary rankings like a fantasy football fanatic.

For families of kids with special needs, there are often more subtle, challenging considerations: What supports can my zoned school offer my child? Does the school welcome children with learning differences? Is the school accessible? Does my child need an aide, an integrated classroom or something more?

Children already receiving special services will be making the transition from pre-school special education services to the Committee on Special Education, and it’s not always as simple as it sounds. Many of the supports a child might have received in preschool shift as she enters kindergarten, and academic demands are often higher. Others may be entering the world of special education in New York City schools for the very first time.

To help make sense of the transition and answer any questions parents may have, the Department of Education has begun hosting information sessions specifically targeted to families of children with special needs who will be applying to kindergarten this year. Workshops in the Bronx were held earlier this month, but more workshops are coming up in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. The same information will be covered at every one.


Date Time Location Contact
Wednesday, Nov. 18 6–8 pm

PS 264 Bay Ridge Elem. School for the Arts 371 89th Street Brooklyn, NY 11209

CSE #7, Brooklyn (718) 759-4900

Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015

9:30–11:30 am

P.S. 190 Sheffield 590 Sheffield Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11207

CSE #5, (718) 240-3557


Date Time Location Contact

Friday, Nov. 20

9:30– 11:30 am

CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10016

(212) 374-6085


Date Time Location Contact

Monday, Dec. 7

9:30–11:30 am

P.S. 69 Jackson Heights 77-02 37th Avenue Queens, NY 11372

CSE #4 (718) 391-8405

Monday, Dec. 7

6 – 8 pm

Committee on Special Education (CSE) #3, 90-27 Sutphin Blvd. Jamaica, NY 11435

CSE #3 Sutphin Office (718) 557-2553

Staten Island

Date Time Location Contact

Thursday, Dec. 10

9:30–11:30 am

The Michael J. Petrides School 715 Ocean Terrace, Building B Staten Island, NY 10301

CSE #7, Staten Island (718) 420-5790

Thursday, Dec. 10

6–8 pm

The Michael J. Petrides School 715 Ocean Terrace, Building B Staten Island, NY 10301

CSE #7, Staten Island (718) 420-5790

*All sites listed here are wheelchair accessible. Please call using the numbers listed if you are hearing impaired or need language interpretation services.

The DOE is also offering kindergarten info sessions for families in December. See the dates here.

And watch our video "Touring Schools for your Special Needs Child" below.

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Thursday, 22 October 2015 13:11

Parents push for citywide G&T in the Bronx

On a typical weekday morning, Cynthia Caban wakes up at 5:15 am to begin her daily commute. Her family lives in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, but her 5th-grader goes to school at TAG (Talented and Gifted) Young Scholars in Manhattan, one of five citywide gifted and talented programs. Yesterday, the drive was particularly bad. “It took me an hour and 45 minutes to get her to school,” Caban said. It then took two more hours to get out of Manhattan and back to the Bronx, where Caban works. Since the DOE does not offer cross-borough transportation, a bus is not even an option.

For Caban, seeing her daughter “blossom” at the right school is worth it, although the price is high. “Some days I have to remind myself why I’m doing this,” she said.

Change.org petition to create a citywide gifted and talented program in the Bronx shows just how hard the reality is for families who commute to a citywide program. Parents note daily commute times of up to four hours to get their kids to and from school. In a borough with a high poverty rate and some of the worst performing schools in the city, families of high-achievers are willing to make many sacrifices to find better options. Advocates say they shouldn’t have to.

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(This article first appeared on the Urban Matters blog at the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School).

Everyone knows gentrification causes friction. And as recent clashes over proposed changes to attendance zones in Manhattan and Brooklyn demonstrate, the public schools are where gentrification battle lines sometimes get drawn.

But there's another side to the story. Gentrification also occasionally leads to better schools for everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor. The city should follow the example of these success stories as it crafts solutions for other schools in changing neighborhoods.

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The Department of Education is certainly keeping parents—and schools—on their toes this year: Families of children born in 2011 will apply to kindergarten between Dec. 7 and Jan. 15, with notifications set to come out in mid-March, a month earlier than last year.

The takeaway for parents is simple: Start your research now, and if you happen to be in the midst of middle school or high school applications season too … well, we don’t envy you. Earlier kindergarten applications means parents will have less time to read up on schools and visit them before ranking and submitting their options. (Note that this year’s week-and-a-half-long public school winter break comes in the midst of this.)

Otherwise, the Kindergarten Connect process will remain the same as the past few years. Families may apply online, over the phone, or in person at a Family Welcome Center with a single application. Parents can apply to up to 12 schools, ranking them in order of preference.

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A few days before the start of school in September, Ilise Alba was surprised to learn via email that her rising 4th-grader had not qualified for gifted and talented admission (G&T). “His teacher’s feeling was that he should be eligible and going to one of these programs,” Alba said. Still, she moved on. After all, it was September: afterschool classes were paid for and her son was set to re-join his friends at the popular PS 101 in Forest Hills, Queens.

Just this past Monday, however, everything changed. A new Department of Education (DOE) email arrived, saying that her son was in fact eligible and apologizing for the confusion. The email included an application, a list of all the G&T programs in the city (rising 5th-graders may only apply to k-8 programs) and a deadline to apply less than 72 hours later. Alba researched schools “on the fly” and applied to several, though she remains frustrated and confused.

“It feels like it’s too late,” she said. “Now that he’s in place and happy a month into school, we’d be taking a huge risk with his grades and with all the emotional issues involved in switching schools." 

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If you’re thinking of applying to a gifted and talented program in New York City for your child currently in pre-k to 2nd grade, the time is now: The G&T application season is open and the sooner you sign up, the better your chances are of getting your preferred test date. 

The first step is submitting your RFT (request for testing) form either online or in person at your child’s current NYC public school or at a Family Welcome Center (if your child is a non-public school or charter student). All RFTs must be submitted by November 12. (The original deadline of November 9 was extended, the Department of Education announced on Nov. 5)

Here's an overview of gifted and talented programming, testing procedures and—as always—advice to help your family navigate the process.

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On paper, the rezoning plan makes a lot of sense: PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights (which is 60 percent white) is very overcrowded and nearby PS 307 (which is 90 percent black and Latino) has room to spare. So why not shrink the PS 8 zone—one of the largest in the city—and enlarge the PS 307 zone—now a tiny speck that includes the Farragut housing projects—to make room for future growth in the school-age population?

Unfortunately, the Department of Education has done a lousy job presenting the plan to the District 13 Community Education Council (the elected panel that must approve any zoning changes) and parents in both school zones worry about what the changes mean for their children. If the plan is going to be successful, officials must do a much better job at the next CEC meeting on September 30, explaining what the benefits might be for everyone involved. Just as important, the city must commit the staff and resources necessary to address parents’ legitimate fears.

Some PS 307 parents worry that a community institution that has long nurtured black and Latino families will be “taken over” by outsiders. Will the new PTA be dominated by wealthy whites who organize fancy auctions that current parents can’t afford to attend? Will the administration cater to the newcomers, neglecting the concerns of the neediest children?

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Thursday, 17 September 2015 16:47

Brooklyn Hgts school rezoning plan gets pushback

Parents and community leaders said Wednesday more time is needed to consider the city's proposed rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 — a plan that does not adequately address issues of race and class that exist within the communities.

The Department of Education is seeking approval to redraw the two schools' zones, which would affect future District 13 students living in DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Vinegar Hill.

At a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, many locals pushed back against the city's plan because they said it neglected the needs of P.S. 307, a school with a high minority population, including children who live in Farragut Houses.

Based on 2014 records, P.S. 307 is 93 percent minority whereas P.S. 8 is predominantly white, according to the DOE's presentation, which also suggested that rezoning would integrate the schools.

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015 12:52

Computer science? Reading comes first!

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a splash with his promise to offer all children classes in computer science over the next decade. But tucked into his education speech on Wednesday was something that may have an immediate, concrete impact: a pledge to hire reading specialists for all the city's elementary schools by fall 2018.

Needless to say, reading is an essential skill. Research shows that children who don't read well by 3rd grade are unlikely to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, New York City has not previously invested in reading specialists—that is, teachers who have a master's degree focused on reading issues.

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