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:
In what's become an unfortunate annual occurence for New York City families, more than 2,300 children are waitlisted for kindergarten seats at 105 schools, according to the Education Department. Two of the hardest hit neighborhoods are Sunset Park in District 15 and Corona in District 24 in Queens. In both neighborhoods, the DOE is trying a new strategy to deal with overcrowding: opening “overflow” schools to absorb some of the waitlisted kindergarteners.
One overflow school will open in Sunset Park in the fall with three kindergarten classes. The new school, Sunset Park Avenues, is unzoned and will only accept children who are assigned to the school after landing on waitlists at other area schools.
“A portion of waitlisted students from 15K094 [PS 94] and 15K169 [PS 169] may receive alternate offers” to Sunset Park Avenues, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed. The families of kindergartners assigned to the school will get letters from the DOE’s Office of Enrollment, he said.
It's going to be a Wild West waiting game for anxious prospective pre-kindergarten parents this year.
Even though acceptance letters don't go out until June 11, one Brooklyn school has already created an on-line waitlist in an effort to limit the chaos.
"We have not received any guidance from the DOE," said Charmain Derrell, parent coordinator at PS 9 in Prospect Heights. "We are organizing it ourselves so we're not swamped right before school lets out."
Siblings will get preference, and then it is first-come first-serve, Derrell said. But DOE officials warned that waitlists shouldn't be in place before parents know where their children have been accepted. They promised to clarify the process this week.
A change in special education enrollment will likely have some already overcrowded schools coping with a large influx of kindergarten students in the fall.
In past years, most special education students were placed in schools that had space or offered the kinds of classes that could serve them. This year, in an effort to allow more special education students to attend their local schools, most will be enrolled at their community school.
The problem is that some schools that had big kindergarten wait lists last year also had a very low percentage of special needs students, compared with nearby schools. That means the new plan for sending more special education children to their zoned schools could bring even more kindergarteners to the doors of packed schools this fall.
I thought I was courting disaster when I took my four-year-old to Brooklyn's two-hour long pre-k information session Monday night after a full day at pre-school. But with the assistance of an extra large slice of pizza and a cupcake-making app, we made it through without meltdown.
There are upcoming sessions in each borough -- the next one is Thursday in Manhattan -- and you will learn more at them than you can from simply downloading the directory. Officials used a Power Point presentation in a darkened auditorium at Sunset Park High School to explain what a typical day in pre-k looks like, how to apply, and they stuck around for questions afterwards.
There was, however, some jargon about "aligning to common core standards" and other policy efforts that weren't explained in a way that was easy to understand. The Power Point presentation didn't exactly explain how pre-k was "the first step to college and career readiness," but officials were friendly, knowledgeable and more down to earth when answering specific questions. And it was a relief to hear a DOE representative tell us that "when you give children lots of time to run around and play, it helps them intellectually too."
Kindergarten options in Brooklyn are as diverse as the borough itself. In the largest districts, schools are packed and most families attend their neighborhood schools. Others have room for students from out of zone, and even out of district. Charters crowd central Brooklyn but have little presence in northern and western Brooklyn. Magnet programs and dual language programs give parents options in some neighborhoods. In other areas, waitlists may present challenges but persistence can pay off.
In Staten Island, the city's smallest borough, there is much less school choice -- only one unzoned school and a few charters.
Here's a rundown.
District 13: Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, part of Park Slope & Brooklyn Heights
Community Roots Charter School and Arts and Letters in Fort Greene are highly sought after schools that hold lotteries and give preference to district families. PS 11 and PS 20 in Clinton Hill usually have space for out of zone children. PS 9 in Prospect Heights and PS 133 in Park Slope have gotten much more popular with local parents, but often have space, but parents may have to stay on a waitlist until August. PS 9's dual language program takes native Spanish speakers from out of zone and PS 133's French, and new Spanish, dual language programs do as well. PS 282 in Park Slope is a traditional school, with a district gifted program, that is a top pick for many out of zone parents. (Its gifted program is only open to district students, though.)
We’ve heard a lot of scary stories about kindergarten waitlists at very popular schools, but what about good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed? Insideschools has compiled a list of Manhattan schools that accept children from outside their immediate neighborhoods. We’ll be posting similar lists for other boroughs soon.
For this list, we have concentrated on schools that don’t require a "gifted and talented" exam. All a parent has to do is apply between now and March 2--and hope there are seats available. Call the schools directly for details. These schools fall in a couple of categories:
--Magnet programs. These schools receive federal money to develop a theme, such as science or technology. They give first preference to children who live in their attendance zone, but usually have room for children from across a district. Some also have room for children outside the district.
--Dual language programs. These programs are designed to make children fluent readers and writers of English and another language: Spanish, French or Chinese. Instruction alternates between the two languages. Typically, half the children speak English at home and half speak the other language. Zoned children get preference, but others may apply.
--Unzoned schools. These schools accept children from a particular district. A few accept children from all five boroughs.
--Good neighborhood schools. Children who are zoned for the school get preference, but sometimes there are extra seats, even though you may not find out until August.
--Charter schools. These accept children by lottery. (You have until April to apply.)
Lower East Side
In District 1 on the Lower East Side, there are no zoned neighborhood schools. Everybody has to make a choice. Preference goes to children who live in the district, but there are sometimes spots for out-of-district children, including Brooklynites.
Long-time favorites are The Neighborhood School, The Earth School, and PS 184—which will most likely fill up with District 1 kids this year. (Note: out-of-district families who are willing to wait until August may snag a seat). Out-of-district children may have a better chance at the Children’s Workshop School and East Village Community School. Also consider PS 20, which has a nice dual language program in English and Mandarin. PS 63 is gaining in popularity. The Girls Preparatory Charter School offers a single-sex option.
Downtown, the Village and Midtown
Forget PS 234 or PS 41 if you live out of zone. Those popular schools have long wait-lists even for their zoned kids. There are some other options, however. PS 150 and Midtown West are sought-after unzoned schools for District 2. PS 33 and PS 11 are zoned schools that may have room for other kids who live in District 2. A new school, Peck Slip or PS 343, will be opening in the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse. See the District 2 CEC website for details. New schools often have space for out-of-zone kids in their first year.
Upper East Side
The good news: the Upper East Side will have some new buildings, easing overcrowding. PS 267 and PS 59 are moving into new buildings in the fall, and PS 267 may have room for out-of-zone kids. A third school, PS 527, will open in the former parochial school, Our Lady of Good Council, at 323 East 91st Street. It, too, may have space for out-of-zone students. See the District 2 CEC website for details.
Ella Baker is a progressive K-8 school that has long accepted children from all five boroughs.
Upper West Side
PS 199 won’t have room for out-of-zone kindergartners, but other District 3 schools may. Consider English-Spanish dual language programs at PS 84, PS 87, PS 163 and PS 75. In addition, PS 84 has a French-English dual language program. These schools mostly limit admission to District 3 students, but French-speakers from out of district may be eligible for PS 84.
Manhattan School for Children accepts children from across District 3.
The birthplace of school choice, District 4 in East Harlem has welcomed out-of-zone and out-of-district children for decades. Central Park East I, Central Park East II and River East are small progressive schools. The Bilingual Bilcultural School, PS 57 and PS 171 are also popular choices, but they give preference to kids who live in the zone.
District 6 offers a number of choices for parents who want to look beyond their neighborhood school, including Muscota New School, Amistad Dual Language School, Hamilton Heights School, Washington Heights Academy and PS 178, The Professor Juan Bosch School.
For more on these and other tips on how to apply to elementary school, attend the Insideschools workshop in Manhattan on Feb. 7.
The Education Department is taking some steps to address the city's annual pile of nightmare stories about kindergarten enrollment. But the underlying issue of too many kids for the number of seats in some neighborhoods will persist.
First up, the DOE may close "non-mandatory" programs at schools that cannot find spots for all of their zoned students. "It is the primary obligation of zoned schools to serve zoned students," the proposed wording reads. While no specifics are offered, it is likely that gifted and talented programs and dual language programs may disappear from some packed schools. This year PS 153 in Maspeth, Queens, which had close to 30 kids on its kindergarten waitlist last March, is no longer accepting kindergarteners into its G and T program.
Nine schools in Manhattan's District 2 and 11 schools in District 10 in the Bronx are so overcrowded that they cannot accept incoming zoned students in some grades. In all, the Department of Education approved capping enrollment for 73 elementary and middle schools as of mid-October, according to data released by the DOE. In schools where there is no room, zoned students may be bused to nearby schools.
Kindergarten was the grade most frequently capped, but at MS 80 in the Bronx, there was no space left on any grade, 6-8. PS/IS 194, a K-8 school in District 11, was similarly affected with all grades but 1st capped.
I finally came up with solutions to New York’s vexing problems regarding school overcrowding, pitiful educational planning, charter school "co-location" and rampant growth in residential development. It took me all afternoon, but I did it.
Like most problems in New York City, these big issues boil down to neighborhood disputes. To understand how these problems intersect, consider what’s happening on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (or “Stroller City,” as it’s known these days), which has all the components of NYC’s larger malaise.
Good neighborhood schools are full, and last year’s debut of a new elementary barely dented most kindergarten wait lists. Manhattan is experiencing a baby boom, and parents are flocking to nabes with good public schools. Former chancellor Cathie Black (oooh, how I love to type those four words) suggested folks use birth control, but her advice arrived five years too late. No “morning after” pill can erase a kindergartner.
A new Success Academy charter school was allowed to open on the Upper West Side, but many are furious the charter was given space amid high schools within the Brandeis campus on West 84th Street. Such co-location arrangements spark the fiercest battles in the fight over charters, as competing institutions instantly begin fighting for limited space in classrooms, cafeterias and gyms.Now, things are about to get worse: Developers want to build a 20-story residential tower at 77th and Broadway. If the past gives a hint of the future, this tower will be full of families with young kids long before Department of Education planners realize an increase in two- and three-bedroom apartments means a commensurate increase in children needing classrooms.
These problems seem to defy solution, yet one decisive move could solve everything: Force the tower’s developers to include a home for the new charter school.
Any developer will howl at such an idea, but I have little sympathy for folks who earn millions by adding family residences in neighborhoods already unable to satisfy the educational needs of the existing population. But after the howls subside, a smart developer will realize that including school space within a residential tower provides immediate benefits (not least among them governmental power of eminent domain to forcibly buy out balky property owners) while also fostering political good will.
Besides, involving private developers in the construction of public schools is hardly a revolutionary idea. In 2010, exactly this type of public-private partnership created East Side Middle School, the first new public school built on the Upper East Side since 1962.
But should the charter get its school space for free? No. Eva Moskowitz’s expanding Success Academy charter network needs to start building new schools rather than elbowing its way into existing public spaces. Other charter schools (notably Harlem’s DREAM Charter School) are raising money for bricks and mortar. Let Success Academy’s impressive fund-raising corps tackle a new project: construction of the first K-8 campus it will have all to itself, forever. Start now, and your new classrooms will be ready about the time Success Academy outgrows its contentious Brandeis home, which it inevitably will.
The developer will add classrooms, not deplete them. A charter school will create its own home, not steal space. Parents will have more options to meet children’s needs. Best of all, this solution can be tailored to any NYC neighborhood where new development outpaces existing classroom space.
The downside? More strollers on New York sidewalks. To solve that problem, allow me to outline my plan for a stroller-only subway …