Parents Liz Rosenberg, Kemala Karmen and Dionne Grayman organized the first Parents' Charrette which was held on Dec. 8. Here's their report on how the event went, plus next steps for the group. See a slideshow of the day's events at the bottom of the post.
Fran Huckaby, standing at the front of Battery Park City School's brightly lit auditorium, was speaking about seesaws. Her audience, parents and parent leaders from most school districts and all five boroughs, listened intently as Huckaby, an education professor at Texas Christian University, employed the playground image to illustrate the current power imbalance between parents and policy makers.
As she spoke, graphic artist May Lee, Sharpie in hand, drew on a giant piece of foam core, literally illustrating Huckaby's point: policy maker "heavies" weigh down the power seesaw, leaving parents, who have little input into decision making, dangling in the air, totally at their mercy. Sometimes, the heavies drop us suddenly. (Bam! School closure.) Other times, frustratingly, nothing at all happens, even when parents have clearly agitated for change.
Whether or not you see merit in this metaphor, you may be wondering why a Texan professor, currently studying parent activism in Chicago, wound up talking to a bunch of New York parents on a rainy Saturday morning. You may also be curious as to why we bothered mentioning what is essentially a Sharpie doodle.
The answer: With parent participation in the schools at an all-time low and the mayoral campaign looming, we assembled a diverse group of parents to grapple with the question "What might real 'parent engagement' look like under the next mayor?" The gathering was our organization's inaugural event, and, like NYCpublic.org, the website we intend to launch, functioned as a space where parents could learn together, organize around a particular topic, and take action.
We invited Huckaby, along with Lisa Donlan of the District 1 Community Education Council and Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children, to give participants some background on parent engagement. We invited Lee because our audience members had widely varying levels of experience as parent activists; graphic facilitation is believed to help an audience develop a "big picture" in common. (It's also fun to watch.) Finally, we invited the (presumed) mayoral candidates because we wanted them to listen to what parents have to say.
When the speakers wound down, we split into groups for the day's major work, a charrette. The charrette, whose roots are in architecture and urban planning, is a tightly facilitated, highly participatory brainstorming session that is focused on generating actionable solutions—in this case, ideas for improving parent engagement. Parents produced brief written and oral responses to a series of questions, gradually honing in on one idea that they would flesh out for presentation to the mayoral candidates. The charrette rooms buzzed with activity in English and Spanish as parents (and some grandparents) scribbled on post-its and clustered around White Boards scrutinizing each other's work. The atmosphere was lively, generally respectful, sometimes passionate, and definitely productive.
One group suggested creating an independent education 311 that would track concerns and provide an advocate to help parents strategize. The same group also called for a survey that would offer schools and the system real feedback—totally detached from the retributions of the progress report. And, the group suggested joint parent-teacher projects, with the idea that it would create an opportunity to talk about what needs improvement in a context where something positive—the project—was already happening.
As for the presumptive mayoral candidates, NYC Comptroller John Liu popped into a few rooms, getting a glimpse of the process and responding to a few ideas. Back in the auditorium, Tom Allon (declared Republican candidate) joined representatives who had been designated to report back to Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (potential candidates on the Democratic ticket). All four discussed the ideas and their desire to learn about other proposals. Each said that parent engagement would be a key issue in the election.
We found it extremely gratifying to bring parents together for something purposely proactive. We parents are certainly not a monolithic group. (One example: some charrette participants could imagine improved parent engagement under a modified form of mayoral control, while others believed mayoral control wholly incompatible with real parent involvement.) We can learn from one another and work together, and—if this one charrette is any indication—create a slew of practical, sensible ideas. The bottom line: parents are a valuable resource; when we are ignored or undervalued, it is to the detriment of everyone in the system.
NYCpublic is compiling all ideas that emerged from the charrette into a presentation that we hope to share directly with individual candidates. For more about our organization and proposed website—we are currently seeking funding for a 2013 launch -- please visit NYCpublic.org.
All schools should offer a "safe place" for children who wish to talk about last Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in a letter to school communities and families today.
The letter, signed also by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Ernest Logan, president of the principal's union, encouraged teachers to "give solace and support to your colleagues so we can be strong enough to take care of our students."
Included were suggestions of resources that teachers, school staff and families can refer to when helping children try to comprehend Friday's horrific acts such as Resources for Dealing with Traumatic Events in School, published by the University of Maryland's Center for School Mental Health.
Ever since news of the school shootings in Newtown on Friday, parents have been sharing resources and suggestions on how to speak to their children about what happened. Here are a few resources to consider:
- The National Association of School Psychologists -- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
- American Psychological Association - Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
- American Academy of Pediatrics - Resources to Help Parents, Children and Others Cope in the Aftermath of School Shootings
- The National Association of School Psychologists -- A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry - Children and Grief
- Massachusetts General Hospital for Children - Talking To Children About A Shooting
- Child Mind Institute - Caring For Kids After A School Shooting
- NYU Child Study Center: Talking with Children About Difficult Subjects: Illness, Death, Violence and DisasterHow can parents talk to children about community tragedies?
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Children: Firearms, Grief and Violence
And, after the jump, here are some tips from a social worker accustomed to treating victims of crime. Thanks to Park Slope Parents listeserv for sharing them.
A new edition of Child Welfare Watch -- issued by Insideschools.org's colleagues at the Center for New York City Affairs -- reports on the city's youth justice system, looking at what has changed following several years of reform. It reports on new initiatives to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18; to build bridges between communities and the Department of Probation and to house incarcerated juveniles closer to home. And it tells the story of the difficult relationships between the NYPD, young people and other tenants in New York public housing.
- The number of arrested teens aged 15 and under whose cases have been diverted from court and closed by the city's probation department increased 47 percent between 2009 and last year. This number has more than doubled since 2006. (See "Case Closed.")
- Public housing residents make up about five percent of the city's population, but from 2006 through 2009, roughly half of all NYPD trespassing stops in the entire city took place in public housing. (See "To Protect and Serve?")
- New York's policy of trying 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent offenders as adults in criminal court reduces each teen's lifetime earnings potential by more than $60,000. The state loses at least $50 million in foregone wages for each annual cohort that passes through the adult courts—and unknown millions in lost tax revenues. (See "The High Cost of Convicting Teens as Adults.")
- ACS plans to spend $22 million to provide short term, evidence-based therapies to work with about 3,000 families. This is a targeted effort to reduce the number of children 12 years old and older placed in foster care. (See "Social Workers at the Kitchen Table.")
Child Welfare Watch offers a set of policy recommendations and solutions informed by the research and drafted by a panel of practitioners, experts, parents, young people and others, aimed at helping policymakers continue toward cohesive criminal justice reform.
Read the new edition of Child Welfare Watch here.
Does size matter when it comes to high school? A November City Limits article makes the case that mid-sized high schools -- those enrolling between 1,000 and 1,300 students -- are the "sweet spot" for students: small enough that students get personal attention, but large enough to offer many sports teams, clubs and a wide variety of courses.
In the years since Mayor Bloomberg and his chancellors have been closing poorly performing schools, they have replaced them mostly with small schools, of fewer than 600 students. They have not replicated some of the most sought-after mid-sized schools, such as the perennially popular Beacon High School in Manhattan, or High School for Telecommunications Arts in Brooklyn. In fact, only 20 out of some 554 New York City high schools enroll between 1,000 and 1,300 students, according to Class of 2013: Life in the "Sweet Spot"," an article written for City Limits by Helen Zelon.
As part of her year-long City Limits series about this year's high school seniors, Zelon profiles four students who attend Telecommunications. They say they appreciate the diversity of their classmates and course offerings -- things they might not have gotten at smaller schools.
This week and next, 8th graders will make their final decision on where to apply to high school. Size is certainly a factor to consider, but their choice mostly comes down to small or gigantic -- not the mid-size "sweet spot" Zelon writes about.
Read the full story on City Limits: Class of 2013: Life in the Sweet Spot: Amid the debate over whether small high schools have fixed—or added to—problems with large city high schools, four students at "Tele" are happy to be stuck in the middle.
There are at least 43 schools still too damaged by Hurricane Sandy to reopen and many others which lost power and needed supplies. If you or your organization can help these schools, the Education Department has set up a way for you to do so.
The DOE posted a survey on its website asking for assistance from individuals and organizations. Those who can assist may simply fill out a survey, detailing what goods or services they can provide and how soon they can do so. The DOE will match the offers of help to the schools that need it.
Sign up here.
The Nov. 7 Gifted and Talented information session in Queens, cancelled twice due to storms, has been rescheduled.The new date is Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Frances Lewis High School, from 6-8 p.m. The Nov. 8 session at PS 121 in the Bronx is on. Education Department admissions officials will cover the G&T admissions process for students entering kindergarten, 1st, 2nd grade and 3rd grade in the 2013-14 school year.
Families now have until Nov. 16 to sign up for G&T testing for their children; that's a one week extension from the original Nov. 9 deadline. Most parents will submit the request for testing form online, but others may go to the enrollment office.
Parents who miss going to one of the sesions should be reassured that virtually all of the information covered in the sessions by DOE officials is in the G&T handbook (pdf).
One of the few bits of information not covered, that we heard mentioned at the Brooklyn and Manhattan sessions, was that 4-year-olds will not be expected to "bubble in" their responses. In fact, they are strongly encouraged not to do so. Parents who expressed concern that their children might be shy, or reluctant to go in to a room with a stranger, were reassured that all teachers administering the assessments are well-trained and accustomed to working with small children.
For more information, see the DOE's G&T page.
(updated Nov. 8 with new information)
Saturday's specialized high school admissions test, scheduled to be taken by all 9th graders and 8th graders needing special accommodations, has been postponed until Nov. 17, the Education Department announced this afternoon.
One of the sites, Brooklyn Technical High School, is still housing evacuees, and another, Stuyvesant, is virtually impossible to reach by subway.
The DOE announced other changes for anxious 8th and 9th graders applying to specialized and other high school:
- All weekend auditions, interviews and exams have been cancelled and will be rescheduled
- Auditions at LaGuardia High School scheduled for Nov. 3-4, will be held the following weekend, Nov. 10-11
- Auditions at Frank Sinatra scheduled for Nov. 3-4, will be held the following weekend, Nov. 10-11
- The SHSAT scheduled for Oct. 28 will now be held on Nov. 18
Check the DOE's website for more information. So far the DOE has not changed the Dec. 3 due date for high school applications.
(And, if you, and your children have extra time on your hands, check out some of the volunteer opportunities at one of the 60 schools housing evacuees. Evacuees are still very much in residence. Here's a link: https://www.facebook.com/OccupySandyReliefNyc)
Late Friday afternoon, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cancelled the specialized high school admissions test for Sunday, Oct. 28, citing weather concerns with Hurricane Sandy and "uncertainty over travel conditions." Eighth-graders scheduled to take the test on Sunday now have an extra few weeks to wait before taking the exam, which determines entrance into one of eight highly competitive high schools.The new date for them is Nov. 18.
Saturday test-takers are not affected.
Here's the notice we got at 4:20 p.m.
CHANCELLOR WALCOTT ANNOUNCES THE
CANCELLATION OF THE SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOL EXAM SCHEDULED FOR SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2012
The test will be rescheduled for November 18
Due to the anticipated inclement weather brought on by Hurricane Sandy, we are cancelling the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) scheduled to take place on Sunday, October 28. The test is rescheduled for Sunday, November 18. The exam scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, October 27, will take place as planned.
Is your child getting the speech, occupational, vision or other therapy she needs this year?
Parents on the Citywide Council for Special Education (CCSE) have been hearing from families whose children are not getting the “related services” they require and they are asking parents to take a survey to get feedback about the problem.
Related services include physical therapy, occupational therapy, vision, speech, hearing, behavioral and assistive technology. They are provided by Department of Education staff or by contracted agencies. If there is a shortage of providers, the DOE is supposed to issue, within 13 days, an authorization - RSA - to parents allowing them to use an independent provider.
Yet, near the end of October, many children of all ages and types of schools, still lack needed services, according to the CCSE and other special education advocates.
"We're definitely still seeing cases," said Maggie Moroff, special education coordinator at Advocates for Children. She said the delay in services may be attributed, in part, to the DOE's change last summer to contracting with outside agencies rather than hiring service providers directly. "They did it with no notice. It got rolled out badly – there was no communication with parents about what was different and how things got changed."
In a statement, the CCSE said they hoped the collected data will identify why related services are not being performed, whether it is
"due to a shortage of therapists in a related field such as speech and language, OT, PT ... confined to a specific borough or District(s) or perhaps, a function of a more systemic problem unrelated to the therapists and specialists who work with children in need of services."
Families whose children have IEPs can take the survey here.
NYC H2O is a small educational nonprofit, run by a former NYC teacher, that offers programs about New York City's water and environment including educating teachers and school staff about recycling. The group is conducting its second citywide survey of recycling in the public schools and would like to know how your school is doing.
Last year's survey showed that while about three-quarters of the city's schools have some sort of recycling effort, there was uncertainty about what was being done with the recyclables. Some teachers reported that paper discarded in blue recycling bins was actually tossed out with trash.
Take the survey here and let NYC H2O know how your school is doing with recycling.