by Sarah Darville, Chalkbeat New York

Few black and Hispanic students won admission to eight of the city's specialized high schools this year, leaving the schools' diversity figures unlikely to change as their admissions process faces continued scrutiny.

Just 5 percent of offers went to black students, and 7 percent went to Hispanic students — numbers identical to last year's admissions figures — though those two groups make up 70 percent of the city's eighth graders. Asian students won the biggest share of the offers, at 52 percent, while white students claimed 28 percent, according to numbers the Department of Education released Thursday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and civil-rights advocates have said those figures for black and Hispanic students are unacceptably low. In the past, they have expressed interest in moving away from the current admissions system for those schools, which relies solely on the Specialized High School Admissions Test.

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High school acceptance letters went out last week and the good news is that 92 percent of 8th graders who applied got one of their choices. Of those, 76 percent got one of their top three picks. The bad news? Once again, thousands of kids were disappointed: eight percent of the more than 75,000 applicants didn't get accepted anywhere. That is still better than last year, when 10 percent of applicants received no match.

If you were one of the 5,800 8th graders who wasn't matched to a high school (or if you're unhappy with your match) it's time to look at the list of the schools that still have space (pdf). There is a wide range of large and small schools with available seats, including several good arts programs, but for the first time in more than a decade there are no new schools opening. 

Most of the top performing selective schools have a handful of seats only for students with special needs. This year those seats are reserved for students who receive "special education services for more than 20 percent of the instructional school day," according to the Department of Education.  If you don't know whether you qualify, ask your guidance counselor to check in the online student enrollment system (SEMS).

School representatives will be at the second-round high school fair from 11 am to 2 pm on March 14 and 15 at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 66th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. You can also meet with guidance counselors at the fair to help consider your options. 

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Thursday, 26 February 2015 15:52

Round 2 high school admissions fair March 14-15

Anxious 8th and 9th-graders are still waiting to learn where they will attend high school next fall. [Schools can pick up letters on Thursday, March 5 and will be distributed Thursday or Friday.] The 2nd round high school fair will be held in Manhattan the weekend of March 14-15.

The Round 2 fair is for students who aren't accepted by any schools they listed on their applications submitted last December, those who want to apply to a school other than the one they were matched to and students who did not apply in the first round. At the fair, families can meet representatives from schools that still have seats available and they can talk to DOE admissions representives and guidance counselors about their options.

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February break is the right time to plan what your children will be doing during the warmer, balmy days of summer. Where to start? Check out our guide to free and low cost programs offered throughout the city. Launched last year, our listings highlight more than 100 free and low-cost programs for children and teens, and include summer and school-year programs in math, science, art, humanities, and academic prep.

To help you get started, here's a sampling of free programs you'll find in our guide:

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 12:39

Fariña urges parents to run for CECs

Zoning, space-sharing, charters—think you have no say? Since 2004, Community Education Councils (CECs) have offered New York City parents a voice in shaping school policies in their districts and addressing community concerns. Today, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged parents across the city to run for an Education Council seat and take a direct role in the education of their children.

“Education Councils make important contributions to their communities and I want to encourage parents across the city to apply for a seat,” the chancellor said in a Department of Education press release. “We need strong CECs in every district and citywide.”

While few dispute CECs' influence on zoning these days, many of the councils' other roles are advisory and have historically been dependent on how much the mayor and schools chancellor were willing to listen. Laurie Windsor, president of CEC District 20, says things are changing. "It was more difficult with the prior administration," she said. "Parents now are more hopeful than in the past about our place at the table with the DOE."

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As the city's top public schools get overcrowded, parents are looking for under-the-radar options that can still offer a quality education.

Many families in Brownstone Brooklyn and other rapidly growing neighborhoods are taking a fresh look at schools that have long struggled with low test scores and few resources in the hopes of transforming them.

"If we're waiting for someone to create more good schools, that's not going to happen," said Stephen Leone, a parent at Cobble Hill's PS 29 who is leading a grassroots movement to improve the nearby School for International Studies.

"We have to do it."

Leone is working with families from PS. 29 and two other well-regarded elementary schools to send an influx of local sixth-graders to International Studies next fall in the hope of boosting the middle and high school's performance and fundraising.

As families across the city are rolling up their sleeves to help remake schools, in ways big and small, here are some tips for parents on how to do it from DNAinfo.com:

1. Get organized.

2. Figure out what your community needs and how to get it.

3. Find a willing principal.

4. Get Involved: Join committees, advocate and fundraise for your school.

5. 5. As a last resort, start your own school.

Read the full article on DNAinfo.com; Five Ways You Can Help Create the School You Want for Your Child.

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Don't expect miracles anytime soon, but the new organization of schools announced by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Thursday may spell the beginning of the end to one of parents' most frustrating dilemmas: what to do when you can't get a problem resolved at your school.

Under Mayor Mike Bloomberg's organization of the school system, if your principal couldn't—or wouldn't—fix a problem, you were pretty much out of luck. Principals were "empowered," which means they didn't have supervisors. They only had coaches, called network leaders. If you called the network leader, you'd be told the network works for the principal, not the other way around. If you called your community school district or high school superintendent, you'd be told the superintendent has no authority. If you called your elected official, same story. If you called 311, your complaint would go back to the principal.

So let's say your child wasn't getting special education services, or the playground equipment at your school was dangerous, or the school safety agents were too aggressive with your child. Short of calling the chancellor directly, there wasn't much you could do.

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Now that bringing cell phones to school will soon be OK, the calls I dread are finally about to stop.

"Hello, we have your son's cell phone,'' a voice from his high school says. "We had to confiscate it because he was using it. You can pick it up between 4 and 4:30 pm today."

Routinely, the next call comes minutes later from my son, using a friend's cell phone. He'll be begging me to drop whatever it is I am doing, run to his school and get his phone because he simply cannot live without it.

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The New York City Council took up the issue of racial segregation in the city's public schools today, but concern about the lack of diversity at eight schools—the academically elite specialized high schools that admit students solely on the basis of one exam—all but drowned out discussion about 1,700 other schools.

Most of the debate at the education committee hearing centered around a nonbinding resolution, offered by City Councilwoman Inez Barron, calling for the state government to change the 1971 law that makes the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) the sole criteria for admission to StuyvesantBronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech. (The city also uses the test to determine who gets accepted by five other specialized high schools created since the law was passed.) Instead, it says, the city should use "multiple objective measures of student merit," such as grade point average, attendance and state test scores, as well as some type of exam.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for changes in the admissions procedures for the specialized schools, which have only a small number of black and Latino students. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has been more cautious, saying on Staten Island last spring that she wanted to improve diversity at the schools without "diluting the experience."

At the hearing, Department of Education officials continued to be vague. Ursulina Ramirez, chief of staff to the chancellor, declined to tell the committee today whether she supported Barron's resolution. "We generally don't comment on resolutions," she said.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014 10:44

Students say segregated schools 'root of problem'

(This article is excerpted from DNAinfo.com.)

When Samantha Ramos walks the hallways of her South Bronx high school, nearly all the faces she sees are Latino or black.

Samantha, 15, is a student at the Bronx Academy of Letters on Morris Avenue, where last year just 2 percent of the 584 students were white or Asian. She has recently been thinking a lot about diversity in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer, and she believes segregated schools like hers are one root of the problem.

"If you're not exposed to different people — people who don't look like you — it's easy to create assumptions and create stereotypes," said Samantha, a 10th-grader, who is part of a newly formed advocacy group at her school called IntegrateNYC4me.

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