The call to action is different for every parent. For Naila Rosario of District 15 it was overcrowding and a lack of pre-k that led her to run for a Community Education Council seat four years ago. For Deborah Alexander of District 30, it was attending her first CEC meeting as a kindergarten mom and seeing parents fight on behalf of families whose needs were very different from their own.

“I was blown away by that kind of selflessness and commitment to a broader cause,” Alexander said. “When it was over I wanted to do the same. Then when you get in you see how tricky it is.”

Talk to any CEC member and you’ll hear that educational advocacy in New York City is much like parenting itself: fulfilling but frustrating. “It’s a lot of work,” said Alexander. “It’s daily emails and phone calls. That’s one thing parents don’t realize.” Add to that, election process glitches (at press time the DOE had only posted 95 percent of applicant profiles online more than a week after the application deadline), strict voting laws (only three PTA officers from each school can actually vote for district CEC reps) and a lack of real legislative power on many issues, and it’s enough to thwart even the most well-meaning of parents.

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It ain’t over yet. The Department of Education extended the deadline for parents to apply for a seat in their district or citywide Community Education Council through the end of today. After years of voting snafus, difficulty attracting members and claims of CEC ineffectiveness, the DOE power players seem ready to start anew—and they want parents to know it. Jesse Mojica, executive director of the Department of Education’s Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) answered several questions via email about the CEC application process and emphasized Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s commitment to give the parent-led councils a stronger voice in education policy. Here's what he had to say.

Q: Which districts are particularly in need of more applicants?

A: Our unprecedented outreach efforts have resulted in at least one applicant for every council seat within a shorter time frame than in previous campaigns. We would like to have at least two candidates for every available seat in every council; we are still short of that goal in Districts 16, 17, 18, 23, 26, 28, 32 and Staten Island High Schools.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2015 12:18

Insideschools event: The lowdown on pre-k

If your child turns 4 this year, he or she is eligible for free pre-kindergarten, either in a public school or at a site run by a community organization. You may apply between March 16-April 24. The de Blasio administration gets an A for effort in its rapid expansion of pre-kindergarten, with more than 30,000 new seats last fall and another 20,000 planned for this coming fall. But what is the quality of these new programs?

Even though the city is rapidly expanding free all-day pre-k programs, demand still outstrips supply in many neighborhoods. The staff of Insideschools and a panel of experts will tell you how to find a good program for your child and to navigate the application process. Josh Wallack, chief strategy officer of the Department of Education and an expert in early childhood, will be joining the panel.

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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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Gifted & Talented seats remain open on the Upper West Side -- and elsewhere in the city -- but parents of qualified children who want the seats say they can't enroll.

Last month, we reported that despite the extreme demand for G&T seats this year and the high number of qualifying students, some programs remained under-enrolled a few days before the DOE's Oct 31 deadline for closing school registers. Now, a month later, vacant G&T spots sit unclaimed at both PS 165 and PS 163 on the Upper West Side, according to City Council Member Gail Brewer's office.

Frustrated parent Karen Alicea-Dunn can't get her son -- who scored in the 96th percentile on the exam -- into PS 163's kindergarten G&T program. 

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Tuesday, 02 July 2013 11:40

K-12 charters: No seats for outsiders

If all goes according to plan, about 70 proud teenagers will get diplomas when Success Academy Charter School–Manhattan High School graduates its first class in spring 2018. The moment will likely bring some sadness, though. After all, most of these students will have been together since they entered kindergarten in fall 2007.

Over the years, some students will no doubt have left the group. But, if Success sticks to its announced policies, no new students would have joined the class since 2010, when the graduates were 9 or 10 years old.

Firmly entrenched at the elementary school level, even though they educate only about 6 percent of New York City's public school students, an increasing number of charter operators are seeking to offer a K-12 education for their students.

How they handle this expansion—whether they admit students from other elementary and middle schools—is almost certain to raise new questions and concerns about the role of charter schools and who they serve. Despite those and other questions, the Bloomberg administration is working to put as many charters into play as possible as the clock ticks down to the end of the mayor's term.

Read the rest of this story on City Limits: New Charter High School Will be Closed to Transfer Students

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Families who were closed out of public school pre-kindergarten programs for their children turning four years old in 2013 may still apply to local community based organizations -- known as CBOs -- where there are still plenty of slots available, according to the Department of Education.

While only 30 percent of families who applied to full or half day programs were matched with a public school program earlier this month, odds may be better at the CBOs. A directory of CBOs offering pre-kindergarten programs is here [PDF]. You may apply to CBOs throughout the spring and summer. Admission is first come, first served.

Families still hoping for a pubic school pre-kindergarten program for their four-year-old should contact the school to ask to put on a waiting list. The deadline for accepted students to register is Wednesday, June 19. On the following day, June 20, schools may begin to contact families on the waitlist to let them know if a spot has opened up.

Here's the link [PDF] to a list of public schools that still had available seats as of June 3.

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Valerie Watnick, who blogs for Insideschools.org on environmental issues affecting schools, released a new book this month: This Sh!t May Kill You: 52 Ways to Make Smarter Decisions and Protect Your Family from Everyday Environmental Toxins.

The book contains 52 action items to help safeguard your family from environmental toxins, including a section dedicated to schools. Professor Watnick is the chair of the Law Department at Baruch College, where she teaches environmental law and business law.

Watnick, a public school parent, is a former co-president of the PTA at PS 199, one of the first city schools that was found to have light fixtures contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in 2008. She has subsequently written about efforts to rid the schools of the contaminated fixtures, including a lawsuit brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest that accused the Department of Education of "dragging its feet" to remove suspect fixtures from more than 730 schools. Last week, a settlement was reached and the DOE announced it would accelerate the removal process, completing it by 2016.

Her new book is available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble, listed at only $2.99 on both sites.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 10:57

Parents win victory in PCB removal

The Department of Education's announcement yesterday that it will accelerate the removal of light fixtures that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from more than 730 school buildings by December 2016 is an important victory for New York City school children and their families.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by parent and advocacy groups, the city agreed to halve the timeline for the PCB removal from flourescent lights.The clean-up was supposed to be done by 2021 but the city will expedite the process to be completed in the next 3.5 years.

The renegotiated timeline is a result of more than two years of litigation brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The advocacy groups sued the DOE in 2011 over its intentions to remove the PCB contaminated fixtures over a ten year period. In March, a federal judge ruled against the city's motion to dismiss the suit, admonishing the city for its "foot-dragging" and "spurious" arguments over the clean-up of school buildings. In a stinging decision, the judge said that he was troubled over the city's dismissive attitude to potential health risks faced by children in schools with PCB-contaminated light fixtures. The settlement will require the DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and the NYLPI and the court will continue to monitor the city's work until the last light fixture is removed. 

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Tuesday, 30 April 2013 17:14

DOE changes plan for citywide G&T site

After an outcry by parents, the Education Department changed its plan about where to move The STEM Academy, the  citywide gifted and talented program in Queens. Last week, in a meeting with parents, DOE officials said that the school would be "split-sited" at two locations, the lower grades going to PS 76, the upper grades to IS 126.

Parents were upset, not only about the two different locations, but also because PS 76 is located far from public transportation and already houses a program for autistic children. Parents said the G&T program would take space from the program for special needs children, a prospect that made them uncomfortable.  Instead, STEM families  proposed that the school move to PS 17, which has room for more students and is closer to the subway.

Yesterday, the DOE agreed, presenting a new proposal to parents and principals at the affected schools. Under the new plan, the school would still be located at two different schools, but grades K-4 would go to PS 17, not PS 76. Grades 5-8 would still go to IS 126.

"We’ve worked extremely hard over the past several months to identify space to extend and create a stand alone citywide STEM program," the DOE press office said in a statement. "We always try to incorporate feedback from school communities, and we’re glad we can accommodate a K-8 program in Queens with this proposal."

"We are not thrilled with the split site but unfortunately there is not a lot of room in district 30," STEM parent Michal Melamed wrote in an email to Insideschools.  "We are thrilled with how quickly the DOE changed its mind."

The plan to move and expand the STEM program, now housed at PS 85, will have to be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy. In January, Chancellor Dennis Walcott gave the go-ahead for STEM to become a K-8 school with its own administration. Since then the DOE and parents have been looking for a location.

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