Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.

Families with children turning five years old in 2013 may apply to kindergarten beginning today, Jan. 22, through March 1. You must apply even if you want your child to attend your zoned school. In most districts, parents fill out an application at each school to which they are interested in applying. In districts 1, 7 and 23, which no longer have zoned schools, parents may apply online, on the phone or at borough enrollment offices.

For the first time this year, the Education Department produced hefty directories now online - one for each borough - of all elementary schools in the city. There is a page for each school, listing the school's address, phone number. the principal's email address, website and nearest public transportation. It also lists state test score results, Progress Report grades for the past two years, Quality Review scores and highlights from school surveys.

You can see at the top of each page whether a zoned school accepted any students from outside its zone for this school year -- a feature that is sure to be of interest to parents who are applying to multiple schools outside of their neighborhood. Be aware that some schools listed as not accepting students from outside the zone may have actually taken some in later in the summer or fall, as spaces became available. When you visit a school, make sure you ask whether they anticipate having room and how you can get on a waiting list if you are not accepted in the spring. The directory also notes those schools which had a waitlist for zoned students in June or September 2012.

Enrollment priorities for zoned and unzoned schools are spelled out, and you can see whether a school offers a dual language, magnet or G&T program and whether it is accessible for physically handcapped students. Each has a listing of all schools and programs in the city. Charter schools are listed as well.

Directories are available online. You can print out the entire borough directory (more than 200 pages long in some cases) or just your district's pages. Or, you might want to pick one up instead at a local school or enrollment office.

 

 

For the first time ever families in three school districts that no longer have zoned elementary schools may apply to kindergarten online, over the phone or in person at an enrollment offices, the Department of Education said this week.

District 1 on the Lower East Side has long been a "choice" district, with no zoned schools. In November, Community Education Councils (CECs) in two other small districts, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville, voted to do away with zoned elementary schools, exercising one of the few real powers that CECs have.

The DOE just centralized the application process in the three districts, making it similar to pre-kindergarten admissions. There is only one application, with parents rankings schools in order of preference. In the city's other 28 districts, parents apply for kindergarten individually at each school, even their zoned school.

"The single application is more convenient for all families," said Gentian Falstrom, director of elementary school enrollment for the DOE. Many children in districts 7 and 23 already attend schools outside their zone. Unlike neighborhoods in the city where the schools are overcrowded, many schools in the South Bronx and Brownsville have extra room for students.

Thursday, 10 January 2013 12:29

Applying to kindergarten? Here's what to do

The official kindergarten application period ---  yes, you do need to apply to kindergarten – begins on Jan. 22 and goes through 3 pm on March 1. If you’ve got a child turning five years old in 2013, there are a few things you need to know.

Kindergarten is now required in New York City for children turning five during the calendar year. Parents may opt to keep their child out until 1st grade but schools may not turn away any five year olds. Even if a school is overcrowded, a seat must be found in a nearby school.

Submit an application, even if you are applying to your zoned school. You'll need to submit several documents with proof of where you live. Don't know what your zoned school is? Call 311. You apply individually to each school; there is no centralized application as there is with pre-kindergarten. The exceptions are three districts of "choice" (more on those below).

Tuesday, 08 January 2013 13:03

DOE wants to close 7 more schools

The Department of Education announced Tuesday that it plans to close seven more schools -- mostly elementary and middle -- for poor performance. An additional two schools will lose their middle school grades: PS 156 in Queens and Academy for Social Action: A College Board School in Harlem, where the high school will remain open despite posting an F on its Progress Report.

The announcement brings to 24 the number of closures announced this week. Pending approval by the Panel on Education Policy, the schools will not accept new students, although current students will be allowed to stay until graduation for all except MS 45 and Freedom Academy which will close in June. New schools, with new leadership and new staff, will be housed in the old buildings.

Just four years ago, the Performance School in the South Bronx replaced another failing elementary school. But low test scores and attendance persisted at the school and it will be closed too. Fewer than 15 percent of the students met grade level standards on state math and reading exams in 2012.

About 32 low-performing schools were saved from the ax, including several large, historic high schools: Flushing High School in Queens, George Westinghouse in downtown Brooklyn, Boys and Girls High School in Bed Stuy, and DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx.   Although these schools were threatened with closure, after visits and conversations with school communities this fall, the DOE decided to develop what it calls an "action plan” to improve them instead. There is no guarantee that these schools will continue to survive, however: many of the schools on this year's closure list, last year were on the list to get "targeted action" for improvement.

Monday, 07 January 2013 17:18

City proposes closing 17 schools

Seventeen schools on a list of 60 targeted as "academically struggling" earlier this fall are now slated for closure, Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg said today, with more school closures to be announced tomorrow. If approved, two of the schools would be closed at the end of the school year -- MS 45 in East Harlem and Freedom Academy in downtown Brooklyn --  the others would be phased out more slowly, with current students allowed to stay until graduation.

Three of the 17 schools are elementary schools, six are middle schools, seven are high schools and one, Choir Academy, serves grades 6-12. Most have previously been identified as troubled and at risk of being shut down. A few are large neighborhood high schools, such as Lehman in the Bronx and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, but others are small high schools, created as an alternative to huge zoned schools, such as Bread and Roses and Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications. All have test scores and graduation rates that are below the city average.

Sternberg said that the decision to close the schools was made after a "rigorous review of academic performance" this fall. "We expect success," he said. "We've listened to the community and provided comprehensive support services to these schools based on their needs. Ultimately, we know we can better serve our students and families with new options and a new start."

Thursday, 20 December 2012 11:09

Free stuff to do over the holidays!

What to do with your children once the presents have been opened, the holidays feasts consumed and the kids -- and you -- have had enough of games and computers? How about a visit to one of New York City's "more than 500 galleries, 375 nonprofit theater companies, 330 dance companies, 150 museums, 96 orchestras, 40 Broadway theaters, 24 performing arts centers, five zoos, five botanical gardens, and an aquarium."

That rundown is from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs which compiled a list of city venues with free or "suggested" admissions, perfect for families looking for something to do over the holidays. (Thanks to DJ Sheppard, District 3 family advocate for forwarding it to us!). Here they are, in alphabetical order.

FREE HOURS AT CULTURAL VENUES

For more events, see the NYCulture Calendar.

And, as always, it's best to call or check online before you visit to confirm the details.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012 18:15

DOE reverses itself on sibling G&T policy

After announcing several major changes this fall in admissions' processes for gifted and talented programs, the city today reversed itself on the sibling policy. It will now give priority to siblings of students currently enrolled in elementary school G&T programs, even if their score is lower than other students who qualify.

This sibling preference policy reverts back to what it was for 2012 admissions. The Education Department said it reversed itself after receiving feedback from schools and parents, according to a letter sent today to parents of children in kindergarten through second grade who will be tested in January and February for next fall's G&T programs

The change will affect applicants for both citywide and district gifted programs as spelled out in the letter:

  • "For Citywide programs, siblings scoring at or above the 97th percentile will be placed first, by percentile rank. For district programs, siblings scoring at or above the 90th percentile will be placed first, by percentile rank. After all eligible siblings have been placed, non-sibling applicants will be placed by percentile rank.
  • In any case where there are multiple students with the same sibling priority and score, and not enough seats for all of them, offers will be made based upon a random assignment process."
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 11:40

Applying to middle school with an IEP

All 5th graders will turn in applications for middle school this Friday, Dec. 21. That includes students with special education needs who will fill out the same application as other children.

There is often some confusion about the process, even after the roll-out of the special education reform this year. Now all schools are expected to accept students with special needs, which wasn't the case in the past. Parents say that outreach was poor at some schools last year, with special needs students unaware that they could apply.

To help families of children with special needs better understand their rights when applying to middle school, Advocates for Children put together a list of recommendations and tips. See their suggestions after the jump.

Thursday, 06 December 2012 14:34

City to require kindergarten...kind of

Children who are five years old will now be required to attend kindergarten in New York City public schools, if an amendment to the city's admissions regulation is approved by the Panel for Educational Policy later this month. However, in keeping with the state law signed by Governor Cuomo in July, there are two exceptions: parents may choose to wait and enroll their child in 1st grade the year they turn six, and children who are home-schooled or in private school won't have to enroll in kindergarten when they are five.

Although this change does not exactly make kindergarten mandatory for all five-year-olds, advocates say it sends a message to schools that they can no longer refuse to admit five-year-olds.

"We have seen families turned away from schools with the explanation that kindergarten is not mandatory," said Randi Levine, project director for early childhood education at Advocates for Children. "Although children currently have the right to attend to attend kindergarten this change would make it very clear that schools are required to serve kindergarten students and are not permitted to turn them away."

Tuesday, 04 December 2012 10:55

Don't believe schools that say: "Rank us 1st"

Applying to high school in New York City is complicated, but some schools are making it even harder by giving out misleading or downright wrong information, Insideschools has learned.

Schools are telling 8th graders and their families that they must rank a school first on their application or they won't be considered for a spot, according to many parents we have heard from.

The problem is, that's not true.

"There are no schools that require students to rank the school first on their application in order to be considered," Rob Sanft, director of student enrollment at the Education Department wrote in an email. "Students should rank schools based on their order of preference. Schools do not see where an applicant ranks them on their application."