Clara Hemphill

Clara Hemphill

Thursday, 08 December 2016 12:21

Child born in 2012? Apply to kindergarten now!

If you have a child who will turn five in 2017, now is the time to apply to kindergarten for the school year starting in September. Your child is guaranteed a seat regardless of when you enroll, but you'll have the best chance of getting into a school of your choice if you apply by Jan. 13.

If you want to learn more about your options, come to our kindergarten workshop Jan. 11, or buy our new book, New York City's Best Public Pre-K and Elementary Schools.

The city has kindergarten directories available online. Hard copies are available at local elementary schools and Family Welcome Centers.

After two years of contentious public meetings, the Community Education Council, an elected panel of parents, has come up with a courageous and long overdue plan to ease overcrowding and foster racial and economic integration of three elementary schools in District 3 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It is a bold attempt to balance competing interests and to resolve one of the city’s most intractable social problems. City Hall and the City Department of Education (DOE) should back the plan, which the CEC devised only after it found every zoning plan the DOE offered to be unacceptable. City leaders should also take immediate, aggressive steps to address legitimate concerns raised by local residents.

After weighing multiple perspectives from often angry members of the public, the CEC, responsible for approving attendance zone lines, has taken the unusual step of coming up with its own plan.  This plan could end waitlists at the most popular schools and give hundreds of children better school facilities than they currently have.

If successful, the plan will also break up the high concentrations of poverty that have made it so difficult for one school, PS 191, to gain traction. In the past, most of the children from Amsterdam Houses, a public housing development, have been assigned to PS 191; under the CEC plan they would be assigned to three different schools, all a short walk from one another.

Wednesday, 04 May 2016 11:53

Inside Korean schools: Secret to success?

As a biology teacher at a high-poverty high school in Los Angeles, Taylor Wichmanowski was impressed that his Korean-speaking students—including those newly arrived in the United States—seemed to do so much better academically than most of their classmates.

He knew that South Korea not only had the world's highest student scores on international tests; it also had the lowest proportion of low-performing kids anywhere. Even poor Korean children did well.

He wondered: Is there a secret formula—one that can that be imported to the United States? With the encouragement of his Korean-born wife, he secured a Fulbright fellowship to visit South Korean schools, interview teachers, and bring home any lessons he might learn.

There's been a lot of talk on the Upper West Side about "controlled choice" as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in the elementary schools. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.

The benefit is this: everyone, regardless of their address or income, would get a shot at some of the most popular elementary schools in the district that runs from 59th Street to 122nd Street. Controlled choice puts a thumb on the scale for low-income children who want to attend a middle class school (or middle class children who want to attend a high-poverty school).

But there is a crippling drawback: Controlled choice is, in essence, a form of rationing. By itself, it does nothing to improve the quality of schools—or to increase the number of schools to which parents willingly send their children.

(This article first appeared on the Urban Matters blog at the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School).

Everyone knows gentrification causes friction. And as recent clashes over proposed changes to attendance zones in Manhattan and Brooklyn demonstrate, the public schools are where gentrification battle lines sometimes get drawn.

But there's another side to the story. Gentrification also occasionally leads to better schools for everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor. The city should follow the example of these success stories as it crafts solutions for other schools in changing neighborhoods.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 12:52

Computer science? Reading comes first!

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a splash with his promise to offer all children classes in computer science over the next decade. But tucked into his education speech on Wednesday was something that may have an immediate, concrete impact: a pledge to hire reading specialists for all the city's elementary schools by fall 2018.

Needless to say, reading is an essential skill. Research shows that children who don't read well by 3rd grade are unlikely to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, New York City has not previously invested in reading specialists—that is, teachers who have a master's degree focused on reading issues.

For years, central Harlem's public schools have been among the worst in the city—and parents have felt powerless to do anything about it. Now, activist parents in District 5 are organizing to demand change.

Community Education Council meetings in District 5—once sleepy, sparsely attended events—have become a forum for parents' anger over the state of their schools. "Parents realize that they have a voice," said Rashidah White, a District 5 parent and former president of CEC 5.

A majority of the newly elected District 5 CEC members, who took office in July, are vocal critics of longtime superintendent Gale Reeves. And, while their role is largely advisory, council members hope that casting light on long-standing problems will force school officials to act.

Brooklyn mom Jordan Scott has spent months searching for pre-kindergarten for her daughter—touring seven schools, scouring websites, and asking friends' advice. One school filled its seats before the city even published the pre-k directory. Another suggested she pay a $1,000 deposit to secure a seat—although pre-k is supposed to be free.

Public schools, charter schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, private nursery schools, Head Start programs, child care centers, settlement houses and community organizations are all taking part in Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious effort to offer free pre-kindergarten to 70,000 4-year-olds this year. And, while Scott is thrilled by the prospect, navigating the application process has been a production.

"It's very confusing. This has been my part-time job since last fall," said Scott, one of the 22,000 parents who submitted an application for pre-kindergarten on March 16, the first day of the month-long application period. "I had a spreadsheet and online map. I spent so much money on babysitting that I just took my daughter along on some of the tours."

Don't expect miracles anytime soon, but the new organization of schools announced by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Thursday may spell the beginning of the end to one of parents' most frustrating dilemmas: what to do when you can't get a problem resolved at your school.

Under Mayor Mike Bloomberg's organization of the school system, if your principal couldn't—or wouldn't—fix a problem, you were pretty much out of luck. Principals were "empowered," which means they didn't have supervisors. They only had coaches, called network leaders. If you called the network leader, you'd be told the network works for the principal, not the other way around. If you called your community school district or high school superintendent, you'd be told the superintendent has no authority. If you called your elected official, same story. If you called 311, your complaint would go back to the principal.

So let's say your child wasn't getting special education services, or the playground equipment at your school was dangerous, or the school safety agents were too aggressive with your child. Short of calling the chancellor directly, there wasn't much you could do.

Thursday, 17 April 2014 11:00

Our guide to pre-kindergarten

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that the city will add more than 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats at 140 public schools in September. The staff of Insideschools has developed this guide to help you find a high-quality pre-kindergarten program for your child.

We created an interactive map that illustrates where the pre-k programs are located around the city. It shows how many seats are available this year, and how many applicants each school had last year.

We also posted our recommendations for schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, for Brooklyn, and for Queens and Staten Island. (To see the full pre-k directory, including new programs opening in the fall, click here to download the PDF.)

These lists only include pre-kindergarten programs that are housed in ordinary public schools. That's because the deadline for applying for these programs is April 23. The city is also developing thousands of new pre-kindergarten seats in community based organizations, child care centers, libraries and public housing projects — not included here. When the city publishes a list of those programs, we'll let you know.

We recommend that you apply online to the pre-kindergarten programs based in schools. If you miss the April 23rd deadline, there will be other chances to apply, but the most popular programs fill up fast. If you need help on the telephone, we recommend you call the Center for Children's Initiatives, a referral and information service that's a great resource for parents: 212-929-6911. You can also use their website.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the new seats are in schools that have extra room — not in the overcrowded or super-popular schools that can barely fit all the kindergarten students who live in their attendance zones. Parents on the Upper West Side in Manhattan or in much of Brownstone Brooklyn face tough odds if they apply to a lottery for pre-k at their neighborhood schools. Some schools have no pre-kindergarten at all.

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