Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
Center Park East parents lost their battle to open a middle school in 2013 but say they're heartened by Chancellor Walcott's promise to work with them to find space for a CPE middle school that will open by 2014.
It's no surprise that all of the DOE's proposals were passed at the March 20 PEP meeting, including a resolution to open East Harlem Scholars Academy II in the same buliding as Central Park East I and Central Park East High School. CPE parents had hoped to nab that soon-to-be-open space for a CPE middle school that would allow their elementary school children to continue to receive a progressive education after 5th grade. This is the fifth year in a row that the DOE rebuffed efforts by CPE I and CPE II to open a middle school. But uptown parents won't have to wait much longer for a progressive middle school.
Raven Snook, the mother of a CPE II student, told Insideschools that Walcott made a promise at the PEP meeting to find a site for the progressive middle school by this summer and open the school in fall 2014.
"While we were all disappointed that the March 20 PEP vote didn't go our way in terms of the co-location of two East Harlem Scholars Academy schools, we were all pretty thrilled when Dennis Walcott himself stood on the stage and promised we would indeed get a progressive middle school for fall 2014," said Snook. "So it was a bittersweet victory."
Education Department spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed Walcott's promise via email: "There will be middle school CPE seats available in 2014. We're continuing to engage with stakeholders in order to meet that goal."
I have daughters in the 4th grade who are supposed to take the state exams this year. I'm told future middle schools will look at these exam results to determine acceptance. The stress my daughters are under during "test prep" is crazy. Is this exam really mandatory?
Fourth grade mother
Dear Fourth Grade Mother,
Yes, the standardized tests are required. Chancellor's Regulation A-501 makes that clear.
Whether or not you think that this system is right, I would advise you to have your daughters take the test.
Fourth grade tests are important because middle schools look at them to decide on admissions. Kids apply to middle school in the fall of 5th grade--before the results of the tests given in the spring of 5th grade are available.
Q: My son just received an impressive-looking envelope inviting him to participate in the National Student Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. They make it sound like going will be a great thing for him to put on college applications, but will it really count that much? Will it open doors for him? If this is truly a great opportunity, I don't want him to miss out – but it's really expensive! What do you suggest?
A: Would participating in this program be exciting for your son? Probably so. Will participating add a line to his resume that will make a real impact on his college applications? The company organizing the program would like you to think so, but the real answer is: no.
The drama of the city’s school bus strike officially ended more than a week ago—but you wouldn’t know it at my kid’s bus stop.
When the bus drivers’ union called off the strike last week, my sympathy for its members—who had lost nearly a month’s pay and gained almost nothing—was mixed with relief at the prospect of finally getting to work on time. My 6-year-old goes to school three miles and a tricky subway ride from our home in Brooklyn. I have a job in Manhattan. The school bus is the magic that allows those realities to coexist.
My relief was doomed to a short life: We waited at our regular stop that day, but the bus never came. It didn’t show up the next day either, nor the next. When the bus finally did appear at our stop—six days after the strike was over—it had a new driver, who looked to be reading directions off the back of an envelope. He seemed like a nice guy, if a little bewildered to be navigating a neighborhood he didn’t know with a bus full of kids, but he couldn’t say whether he’d continue to be assigned to the route. I can’t say either, because the bus skipped our stop again the next day.
Somewhere between my son's annual science fair last year and his most recent monthly book report, I have turned into that kind of parent. You know, the kind who becomes so attached to designing and building the paper-mâché volcano that their child's involvement becomes quite beside the point?
It started out innocently enough: my idea was for Brooks to write a song about "Scaredy-Cat Catcher," a chapter book we had been reading together. Yes, it was my idea, but in my defense, I only presented it because my son's idea was to repeat a project we had done the last time (which had been my husband's idea).
On the plus side, Brooks was very involved with many aspects of this perhaps overly-ambitious project. We read the book together twice over a period of a few weeks and outlined the basic storyline. And then Brooks came up with the chorus on his own: he simply started to improvise and I picked out one of his catchier melodic phrases that rhymed.
Parents and administrators at Central Park East I and II say the Education Department undermined their efforts to grow into a middle school, giving away ideal "expansion space to a charter school just months after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said no space was available," DNAinfo reports.
Central Park East I and II are sister elementary schools that teach hands-on, progressive learning. For the last four years, one or the other has been asking the DOE for space to expand and have been given various reasons why the DOE would not grant them permission.
"Every year it's another excuse," former Central Park East 1 principal Julie Zuckerman told Insideschools this week at Castle Bridge, the progressive, dual language elementary school she founded in 2012 in Washington Heights.
Last year, the DOE told Zuckerman they would not allow an expansion because she was leaving to found Castle Bridge. This year, space is the issue, CPE I and II were told.
But the DOE is phasing out JHS 13, which shares the Jackie Robinson Education Complex with Central Park East 1 and Central Park East High School, opening up ideal space for the progressive elementary schools and high school to expand into middle school grades, parents say. Instead, in a surprise move, the DOE granted JHS 13's coveted space to East Harlem Scholars Academy I & II. East Harlem Scholars Academy I is already sharing the Jackie Robinson building and plans to move into its own building once it's constructed. It will use the extra space in the Jackie Robinson Complex to expand into a middle school: East Harlem Scholars Academy II, according to DNAinfo.
Zuckerman said Upper Manhattan is saturated with charter schools and is seriously lacking progressive school choices. "In Northern Manhattan, there's not a progressive middle school," she said.
CPE II mom Raven Snook said she and other parents are planning to rally in support of CPE I and II growing to include a middle school at the Wednesday, Feb. 27 hearing at the Jackie Robinson Complex about the proposed expansion of East Harlem Scholars Academy. (For more information, download their flyer.)
For more on the story see DNAinfo.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she would focus less on standardized tests, give parents a stronger advisory role and extend the school day for low-income children if she is elected mayor.
Without criticizing Mayor Bloomberg, Quinn implied that, if elected, her administration would depart from some of Bloomberg's education policies. While Bloomberg has focused on standardized tests as a way of measuring progress, Quinn said "testing should not be more important than teaching" and should not define schools. While Bloomberg has fostered competition among schools to outperform each other, Quinn said her administration would instead promote more collaboration by identifiying what is working and encouraging schools to share best practices. She pointed to New Dorp High School's literacy program as an example of something that should be expanded to other city schools.
Charter schools are here to stay, Quinn said, but she suggested she would not expand their numbers significantly. "They're at a good level right now," she said. She pledged support to large high schools like New Dorp or Truman High School. Bloomberg's Education Department has closed dozens of large high schools in the Bronx and Manhattan, breaking them into smaller schools. Quinn said she supports the small schools, but large schools can be successful as well.
On the topic of closing schools, Quinn said she would like to see earlier intervention and mentioned a "red alert" system she would put in place to support "failing schools." "Instead of treating schools closings as a good in and of itself, we will treat it as a last resort," she said.
In another departure from Bloomberg, parents under the Quinn administration would have a stronger advisory role. She would like Community Education Councils to be elevated to the status of Community Boards, which advise city government on land-use. She said she's undecided on the topic of school networks, and welcomes parent input. The Bloomberg administration dismantled school districts based on a geographical area and replaced them with "networks" that may include schools from a number of boroughs.
Notably absent from her speech were mentions of the teacher's union, except to say both sides should "lower the temperature" on the debate over teacher evaluations. She also was mum on special education, which the city has begun to overhaul.
My 1st grader and her friends were 'play lunch box fighting' when she got hit with a lunch box between the eyes and her glasses broke on her face. When I spoke to the principal about filing an incident report she said the incident didn't warrant one because "accidents happen." She said that there was only one adult supervising 100 kids at recess and that he couldn't possible see what was going on with all the children. What is the required adult to student ratio during recess? I called the DOE and district advocate but no one had answers. I was hoping you would have the answer.
I did some research about supervision at recess and was surprised not to find any reference to a required ratio of adults to children outside of the classroom.
The UFT teachers contract spells out the number of students that may be in a classroom under the supervision of a teacher but it does not cover recess rules. It is usually not the classroom teachers who are out on the playground at lunchtime. A UFT staffer told me that each school's safety plan should explain the number of adults required to supervise recess, and that it varies from school to school. DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg confirmed this in an email: "The ratio is at principals' discretion, and schools have to specify their own recess and lunchroom supervision in their safety plans. "
The Education Department announced the start of the selection process for the city's Community Education Councils and vows to run the bi-annual elections more smoothly this spring. They could hardly be worse than the last elections in 2011, parent leaders say.
Two years ago, the Community Education Council elections were fraught with SNAFUs and confusion. Some qualified candidates’ names were mysteriously left off ballots and parents were unable to log on to a website to vote in the election’s first round.
“It was chaos and total disaster because the DOE didn’t do proper outreach,” said Shino Tanikawa, the president of District 2’s CEC.
The process was such a mess that even schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott admitted it was mismanaged and ordered a do-over.