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.

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."

Wednesday, 28 November 2012 11:29

Applying to high school? Here are some tips

High school applications are due on Dec. 10! Here are some final tips for 8th graders and their families who are still mulling over their options.

Filling out the application:

  • Be careful when drawing up your list of (up to) 12 high school choices. You don't have to fill in all the slots. Don't list a school you are not willing to attend. If you get assigned to a school you hate, but listed it on your application, it will be very hard to get placed elsewhere.
  • Rank your favorite school first. There's no need to play guessing games or set up an elaborate strategy. Schools will not see which students rank them first, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ranking your top choice number one.
  • Don't apply to a school for which you do not qualify. If a school looks for students with a minimum 85 average or above and your GPA is 70, your chances of getting accepted are slim to none.
  • If you have a zoned school, it will be printed on your application but you are not guaranteed acceptance unless you list it as one of your choices.
  • If you are a "top two-percenter," which counts when applying to educational option schools, this is noted on your application.
  • Many large schools offer several programs. If you really want to attend a certain school, apply to more than one program.
  • Make sure your parent signs off on your final application. Nobody, including your 8th-grade guidance counselor, should persuade you to add choices without consulting your parent or guardian.
  • Keep a copy of your completed application and get a receipt from your guidance counselor when you hand it in.

What to consider when choosing a school

  • Admissions criteria: Some schools require an interview, an essay, or the submission of school work. Make sure you've done what you need to do. 
  • Small school or large? Small schools offer more personal attention and a sense of community. Large schools tend to have more sports teams, clubs and courses. Need help deciding? Watch our video: Weighing your options: Large school vs small school.
  • Fast-track or laid-back? Some schools pile on the homework. Other schools have a slower pace and encourage kids to relax a bit. Think about what's best for you. Will you thrive in a rigorous and competitive environment? Or, are you more likely to learn and excel when the pressure's off?
  • New school or well-established? It's nice to go to a school with a proven track record. Most new small schools take a few years to develop relationships with college admissions officers, so it can be a gamble to be in the first few graduating classes. However if you're faced with the choice between an overcrowded, failing neighborhood school or a new untested small school, in general, you might be better off going with the small one, if you feel comfortable with the theme and the leadership.
  • Theme school or well-rounded curriculum? Be aware that some of the school "themes" exist in name only. The academics should be solid, whatever the theme.
  • How long is the commute? Take a subway or bus ride to see if the commute is doable. Think about what it will be like in the rain and snow, or coming home late in the evening after a sports event or a school play. Far too many students discover after a few days of school that they can't handle a long commute. Watch our video: Weighing your options: Long trip vs short trip
  • Does your child have special needs? Check out our list of noteworthy special education programs, and watch our video on what to look for when you tour a program. Take a look at the DOE's online guide for high school students receiving special education services; unfortunately the high school directory offers very little help.

More tips for students

  • Auditioning? Practice first! Many performing arts and visual arts high school hold competitive auditions and expect applicants to be well-prepared. If you haven't had your audition yet, watch this video: How to apply to an audition school.
  • Don't let your friends choose for you. No school can accept every qualified student, so it's likely that friends will attend different high schools. Trust that you will make new friends in high school.

For 8th graders and their families who are logging hours pouring over the high school directory, reading Insideschools profiles and comments, watching our videos on how to apply to high school, and trekking all over the city for open houses and tours, decision time is here. High school applications are due on Dec. 2.

Here’s our advice about how to fill out the application.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 11:17

Online classes, school days added due to storm

The Department of Education will make up for the five school days and instructional time lost due to Hurricane Sandy, by taking away several vacation days and offering online classes to middle and high school students who have been severely impacted by the storm.

The February President's Day holiday week will be shortened by three days and elementary and middle schools will be in session all day on June 4, previously slated to be a half-day clerical day, the chancellor announced yesterday in a letter to families. 

Today, the chancellor said that middle and high school students who missed even more days of school because they were displaced from their schools or homes, will be offered online courses to help make up for time away from class and to help prevent "learning loss."  Online classes will be offered in English, math, economics, calculus, world history and Spanish, according to a DOE press release. The city's libraries will provide internet access to students who need it. The courses will be taught by teachers in iZone, the DOE's program which provides online tools to many schools, and others experienced in online instruction.

Saturday, 17 November 2012 14:33

High school application deadline extended

Eighth graders will have a little more time to explore their high school options after the Department of Education announced Friday it would extend the application deadline until Dec. 10, one week later than the original due date of Dec. 3.

The DOE cited "hardships due to Hurricane Sandy" in an email message to families. Students may list up to 12 schools on their applications and turn them in to middle school guidance counselors by Monday, Dec. 10. This is the latest of several storm-related delays in the application season. This weekend 8th and 9th graders are taking the specialized high school exams, postponed from October because of Hurricane Sandy.

Students may use the extra time to tour schools and go to open houses, which were cancelled or postponed when schools were closed for a week.

Families researching high school options should also check out Insideschools videos about choosing a high school and our new list of noteworthy special education programs.  We have posted new reviews and slides shows of dozens of high schools,  the latest of which are posted on our homepage.

 

Thursday, 15 November 2012 11:22

Parents organize citywide charrette

Are you looking to have a voice in deciding policy issues for your child’s education? Have you been concerned about what mayoral control of the schools has done to parent participation and what it will be like under future mayors?

If so, join the conversation and brainstorming at the first Parents’ Charrette on Dec. 8 at PS/IS 276 in Battery Park City, organized by a new advocacy group called NYCpublic.org .

The event will focus on the question: What might REAL “parent engagement” look like in NYC’s public schools?

Organizers Liz Rosenberg, Kemala Karmen and Dionne Grayman -- all mothers from Brooklyn -- are inviting parents from every district to join them in an all day forum called a “charrette”-- defined as an “intensive creative brainstorming session in which a mixed group of stakeholders generate workable ideas and collaborate on an action plan.”