Caleb,* a 14-year-old middle school student in Flatbush, has a seizure disorder and learning delays — the aftereffects of a brain cyst he had removed when he was an infant. He sometimes writes backwards and reads six or seven years below grade level.
He should be in a special class with 12 children and a teacher certified in special education, according to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the legal document that lists the services his school must offer him. Instead, he is in a class of nearly 30 students, a mix of general education and special needs children. His mom says his teachers are doing their best to help, but they can't give him the attention he needs.
Caleb is the victim of a well-intentioned reform designed to end the unneccessary segregation of children with disabilities. Two years ago, the Department of Education declared that nearly all special needs children should be educated in their neighborhood schools, rather than being sent to special programs far from home. Across the city, children who were once assigned to so-called "self-contained" classes are now in classes with two teachers that mix general education and special needs children. Many of these children are thriving, school officials and advocates agree. But, by reducing the availability of self-contained classrooms, the reform has backfired for children who, like Caleb, need a smaller learning environment, advocates say.
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.
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.
The official high school directory is essential reading for 8th graders applying to high school in New York City. But, at 565 pages, the directory can be cumbersome, especially for kids already lugging pounds of textbooks.
Now, we've created a mobile site that will get this information to kids where they are most likely to use it--on their smartphones.
Our new iPhone/Android mobile website, http://insideschools.org/
If your child is one of the 210,000 students in grades 3-8 who scored a Level 1 or 2 on last spring's state ELA or math exams, you should know that schools are offering families 30 minute one-on-one conferences with their child's teachers from now through January.
The $5 million Department of Education initiative was prompted by advocates from the Coalition of Educational Justice (CEJ), said Megan Hester, a community organizer with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform which works with CEJ.
Hester said that when scores came out last summer some CEJ parents wondered whether they should be alarmed at their child's low test scores and what they could be doing about it.
I am the parent of a child in pre-kindergarten and am newly elected to a PTA board in Brooklyn. Our zoned school is a lower performing and not highly sought after school in a district that is overcrowded because of what the other schools offer. I was hoping to work on improving parent involvement, increasing retention at the school and raising funds for enrichment programs at this school. Today we were told that because of decreased enrollment we are losing a teacher. For now I am focusing on the short term crisis of how to either gain 33 students or raise $125,000 in a few weeks. In the long run we need a parent coordinator (ours has been out since 1/2013), and ideas of how parents could work with the administration to make this a school where parents want to send their children. I would really appreciate any guidance on how to proceed!
Dear Pre-K parent,
You have three tasks -- maybe a dozen, but three to start with. You need to build up the school's reputation among parents of young children. You need to raise money. And you need to engage the administration in forging a new perspective. As you noted, these are long term projects -- you won't see results right away but in their pursuit, you will build up a strong stakeholder constituency. In fact, a strong constituency engaging parents, teacher and administrators, as well as the wider community is key to any kind of school improvement effort. See also what I wrote about ways to attract students to a zoned school in a previous column.
For more immediate results try posting a notice on neighborhood parent listservs to let parents know that seats are still available in your school. You can also post notices on supermarket bulletin boards and in local storefronts. I don't know if 33 kids will show up, but it's a start.
As I planned to relocate to New York City to begin a fellowship at Columbia University this fall, a housing specialist advised me to move into School District 3 because it had “better options” for my 12-year-old daughter.
By the time I established residency — a prerequisite for enrolling in the city’s public schools — the “better options” in District 3 had been filled to the hilt.
On our third visit to the makeshift enrollment center in the auditorium of the High School of Fashion Industries on 24th Street (the first time we were turned away because we lacked a lease; the second time there was a “transmission error” as my daughter’s records were being faxed over) we secured a referral to Community Action School.
But after an interview with the school’s assistant principal, my daughter — who earned almost entirely A’s and B’s at her last school — was rejected in favor of another student for what was purportedly the last remaining seat.
PTAlink, a website which aims to connect public school parent organizations and serve as a hub of information for parent groups across New York City, launched today.
The online resource contains information on parent leadership opportunities, PTA development and administration, fundraising, and parent-run school activities and events. Still to come is a forum where PTA officers and members can ask each other questions and share information, say its co-founders Lisa Ableman and Rachel Fine, parents at PS 321 in Brooklyn who conceived of the idea nearly two years ago after getting support from City Councilperson Brad Lander.
They have collected and posted examples of best practices and resource materials from PTAs around the city and are reaching out to parents for more such success stories. For example, PTAlink features a school garden in Boerum Hill along with a "how to" guide on creating a garden, including names of supportive community organizations.
There is also nuts and bolts information about parent rights, the difference between a PTA and PA, Title 1 schools, available help from the Department of Education and more.
Still to come: a mentoring program, pairing experienced PTA officeres with newer ones.
"We realized that parent leaders across the city were reinventing the wheel in a range of areas -- and while many PTAs were looking for a way to find out what other organizations were doing, there were plenty of successful PTAs that were willing to share their best practices," Ableman said in an email. "We developed PTAlink to help parent organizations in two ways: as a comprehensive source of information, and an effective way for schools to learn from each other. In the end, we're hoping this leads to a community of parent organizations that work together."
Check out the website here and add your ideas and feedback. On offer is a free book on fundraising, Beyond the Bake Sale.
No matter how you feel about the end of summer (I am always sad and counting the days until the next one), this week marks the start of what may be a four-year fight for parents of high school freshmen.
A fight to make sure they get the right classes, the right teachers and even a lunch period. A fight to make sure they get support for what could be a tough adjustment from middle school.
A fight to make sure they are ready for college; too many U.S. students are not.
For New York City public school parents, it's likely an ongoing battle -- even at some of the city's best and most sought-after high schools.