Thursday, 03 October 2013 14:18

Ask Judy: How do I build up my zoned school?

Judy,

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!

Sincerely,
Pre-K parent

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.

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Tuesday, 01 October 2013 12:27

When "school choice" means "no choice"

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.

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013 14:42

New PTA website for parents launches

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.

 

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Monday, 09 September 2013 11:38

High School Hustle: What are we fighting for?

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.

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013 16:43

Cheap WiFi for low income kids

A new program rolling out in New York City aims to bridge the "digital divide" and get low income students connected to the internet at home. About one in four, or 2.2 million New Yorkers, are without internet access at home and most of those New Yorkers are low-income and minority, according to EveryoneON, the organization running the Connect2Compete program that gives access to discounted internet service and low price computers. 

Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference in front of a class of 7th-graders on the Upper West Side's MS 258 on Wednesday to promote the Connect2Compete program, which is already underway in other major cities like Chicago. He was joined by Carlos Slim Domit, son of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, former NBA Knicks star John Starks, Education Department Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the principal of MS 258, John Curry. 

"What we are doing today is getting together to try to provide the same opportunities to you and to other students," Domit said. He explained that more than 60 million Americans are not connected to the internet (as opposed to 35 million who are not connected in his home country, Mexico) and many of those 60 million are people of color. Domit's family foundation is a partner of Connect2Compete and working to decrease those numbers in Mexico and the US. 

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013 12:20

HS Hustle: Time for parents to back off?

The first week of middle school a few years back, I learned that two cherished rituals were soon to be stripped from our lives: bringing cupcakes to our children's class for birthdays and traveling to school together with them.

"Your kids are going to be taking the subway alone to school soon, deal with it,'' the principal told an auditorium full of parents on day one, as some cowered in fear and uncertainty.  

Soon enough, parents got used to the subway ritual, after following close behind for a few days – just never close enough to be seen. The principal just laughed at the parent (me) who asked about bringing cupcakes, and it never came up again.

By the time your child starts high school, you are deep into what I call "The Age of Embarrassment"  and long past cupcakes and drop-off worries. Still, you may be filled with uncertainty about what your role should be during these four critical years. 

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Tuesday, 20 August 2013 14:51

5,000 free backpacks for kids in need

Islamic Circle North America's annual backpack giveaway to New York City school children began in late July and lasts through September. The group will give away a total of 5,000 backpacks stuffed with back-to-school supplies to children in need of any religious faith. 

There are three giveaway events this weekend:

Saturday, 8/24, from 3 - 5 PM at the Douglass Housing Projects, 102 Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan

Sunday, 8/25, from 12 - 2 PM at ICNA Al-Markaz Masjid, 166-26 89th Avenue, in Jamaica, Queens

Sunday, 8/25, from 12- 2 PM at Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, 307 Victory Boulevard in Staten Island

Next weekend: 

Friday, 8/30, from 5:30 - 7 PM at the MAS Community Center, 25-15 Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens

Saturday, 8/31, from 1 - 3 pm at Masjid Taqwa at 1266 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn

Sunday, 9/1, from 12- 2 PM at the ICNA Brooklyn Community Center 865 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn

Sunday, 9/1, from 2 - 4 PM at the Masjid Al-Ansar, 161-34 Foch Boulevard in Rochdale, Queens

The backpacks are free to any child in need. See ICNA.org for more information. 

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Monday, 12 August 2013 17:00

10 tips for your soon-to-be-kindergartner

(This post is adapted from an article which originally appeared on Full-Time Nanny.com: 10 Role Plays to do with Your Soon to be Kindergartener)

Kindergarten is an exciting time for kids and their parents, but it can also a be a bit scary. Your child will be in a brand new environment, likely surrounded by kids he doesn't know and under the care of a teacher he's unfamiliar with. The easiest and most effective way of helping him to become acclimated and comfortable with his new school is to help him prepare for common situations he's likely to encounter. Here are ten of the encounters you can role-play with your child before he starts kindergarten.

1. Asking for the Restroom –  Letting your child know how to ask to be escorted to the restroom and how to handle a bathroom emergency in advance allows him to be more confident when approaching his teacher, who is a virtual stranger, about such intimate needs.

2. Requesting Help – Your five-year-old may need help from tying his shoes to managing the clasps on a backpack. Feeling embarrassed about his difficulties or unsure of how to proceed when it comes to asking for help can lead your child to suffer in silence, so make sure that you role-play various situations in which he needs to ask the teacher for help.

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Wednesday, 31 July 2013 15:14

DOE workshop explains specialized HS

In 2012 about 28,000 students took the Specialized High School Admissions Test and only 5,229 were offered seats at the exam high schools. Up against these odds, hundreds of hopeful rising 8th graders attended the Department of Education’s July 30 specialized high school workshop to learn about the admissions test and the specialized schools.

“I’m not going to kid you, this is not an easy test,” said DOE representative Leonard Tretola, who gave an overview of the admissions process to the crowd at Fashion Industries High School in Manhattan. Trerotola advised that applicants closely review the specialized high school handbook, which “clearly explains everything you need to know about the admissions and testing process.”

There’s no downside to taking the exam, known as SHSAT. Trerotola suggested reading to prepare for the exam, but parents concur that your chances of acceptance are slim without doing test prep. Trerotola also covered the timeline for the specialized high school admissions process, which can be found here.

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Wednesday, 31 July 2013 10:32

Ask Judy: My school needs peer mediation

Dear Judy,

I'm a parent who'd like to introduce a Peer Mediation Program to my daughter's principal.  Can you provide information on any services that might provide training to staff members and students alike and are approved by the NYC DOE.  

PSP (Problem solving parent)

Dear PSP,

If your principal doesn't already know about peer mediation, it's a good job for you to introduce  it to him. But principals should know, peer mediation is among several recommended steps under the city's Discipline Code to solve programs without resorting to the most exteme punishments.

With peer mediation, kids work with each other to figure out why a specific problem occurred and how students can solve it. The program not only avoids violence, it develops leadership skills in the children who attend peer mediation training. There are programs which are apt for elementary, middle and high schools.

Like other great additions to a school, it won't  just spring into action.  If you really want peer mediation in your school,  you need to start preparing now. Contact not-for-profit organizations that do peer mediation training, find out what staff they use and how much your school may have to pay. Contact schools with successful programs, to find out what school staff is needed and how they keep the program going.

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