Chancellor Dennis Walcott reads to kindergarten students at Peck Slip this morning before making an admissions announcement.
Parents applying for spots in kindergarten across the city next year will be able to complete the process online through what Department of Education officials today called a "transformative" change to the enrollment process.
The changes also include the beginning of a long-term project to integrate charter school admissions into the city's general enrollment process.
The new, online kindergarten admissions system will affect the parents of the more than 70,000 students entering kindergarten this year, reducing the hassle associated with applying to multiple schools. The city called it an effort "to make enrollment more family friendly."
"Right now, parents must go from school to school to school, submitting applications at each school in order to apply to multiple schools, and that really is something we don't want to have happen to our parents," Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at a press conference today after an appearance at the Peck Slip School, which like many downtown Manhattan schools had a wait list for kindergarten this year.
"So if you're a single parent, and you're balancing a job and a child, this is something we want to definitely avoid," Walcott said. "It's really tough for parents, whether you're single or not."
Iken Ude-Smith and Corbit Smith, outside an enrollment center in Brooklyn, where they hoped to select Iken's school.
Every summer, thousands of children scattered across the city don't have a school to attend in the fall. Beginning this week, and continuing through the beginning of the school year, many of these students will start figuring out what their best options are and find themselves flooding to hubs designed to help them.
The sorting happens at nine pop-up enrollment centers housed in school basements and auditoriums, where Department of Education officials and volunteers sift through documents, check for seats in the city’s 1,700 schools, and listen to new students’ histories and needs.
It's a process designed to deal with the unique transience of New York City's public school population, which annually includes about 50,000 students who enroll in city schools “over the counter” — or after regular enrollment deadlines.
We met families at last year's enrollment centers. Now, here are some of the new faces from this year:
Distressed by state tests that they say did not reflect the way they want students to learn, several city principals are pledging not to use the scores to help them pick their students.
Selective middle schools consider students' fourth-grade reading and math scores, and selective high schools look at students' seventh-grade scores.
But after the first round of state tests tied to new standards known as the Common Core, about a dozen principals have announced — in an open letter to parents, students, educators, and others with an interest in education — that they are abandoning the use of test scores in admission, at least for now.
"We welcome rigor, high standards and accountability, but demand that these three crucial words and concepts not be thrown around loosely; and, even more importantly, we demand that they be implemented in a proper, respectful and effective way," write the principals, who come from a range of selective schools in three boroughs. "Therefore, we cannot grant these recent tests the value others claim they have until [our] concerns are addressed."
The Academic Leadership Charter School, founded in 2009, is housed inside Mother Hale Academy, a district school in the South Bronx.
A South Bronx charter school is screening children for admission based on their performance on academic tests, according to parents and several current and former employees of Academic Leadership Charter School.
As a charter school, Academic Leadership is required by New York state law to admit students through a random lottery. But multiple parents and staff members described a process designed by the school's director to weed out low-performing students.
Four parents who tried to enroll their children at Academic Leadership, an elementary school, this year or last year said that school employees tested their children before deciding whether or not to accept them.
"They took my son to a class to watch him in the class and see if everything was okay. He was in the class an hour," said Khalilur Munshi, describing his experience with the school this winter.
Dissatisfied with his neighborhood school, Munshi had taken his son, a second-grader, to Academic Leadership to try to enroll him in the middle of the school year. An employee told him that the second grade had open slots and no waiting list, and then his son was taken to sit in on the class, Munshi said.
When his son returned, a staff member told Munshi that there actually was a waiting list and that school officials would let him know if a spot opened up.
"I could tell they weren't going to take my son," he said. After the visit, he called the school three times to check on the status of the waiting list and never heard back.
Several former and current school employees said that the school's director and founder, Norma Figueroa-Hurwitz, a long-time New York City educator, orders teachers to test applicants in order to admit the most advanced students. The employees all asked to remain anonymous out of concern that speaking on the record would jeopardize their careers in education.
Reached by phone, Figueroa-Hurwitz denied that students were tested before they were admitted and declined to answer further questions. The same day, her husband and the school's co-founder, Ted Hurwitz, called GothamSchools to respond on Figueroa-Hurwitz's behalf. He said that the school tests students only after they have been admitted through the lottery for the purpose of "placement."
Asked why parents would say otherwise, he said, "I don’t know why. I don’t understand that. We do anything and everything we can. We might do that to get a head start, but I can’t understand that personally." Hurwitz said that he now spends one day a week at the school.
A push to get more students to take the city's gifted and talented test this year paid off: over a thousand more students took the citywide admissions tests this year, with the overall number rising to 39,160 from 38,015 last year.
But the outreach efforts did not increase the number of students admitted to the program's most selective citywide programs. In fact, the number of students who qualified for the citywide programs declined. The number of students who qualified for the less selective district-based gifted and talented programs, which require slightly lower test scores for admission, did increase, growing by 319 students from last year.
The racial and family income backgrounds of the students whose test scores made them eligible for gifted and talented were not immediately available.
The city sent letters to qualifying students this morning, whose families now get to list the programs they prefer and hope for a spot in the program of their choice.
A place in the citywide programs is not guaranteed. Last year, 1,788 kindergartners qualified for about 300 seats. This year, the number of kindergartners making the cutoff is slightly larger, though the overall number of students who qualified for the citywide programs dropped by 149 students.
Charter schools could soon have one single "common application," under a deal hatched today by the three bodies that oversee the state's charter schools, a Department of Education official confirmed.
Right now, families apply by filling out separate forms for each charter school that enter their children into separate lotteries. Under the new process, the city will create one common application, accepted by all schools, but keep lotteries separate.
The change will answer critics' charge that the current process, with its overwhelming paperwork, is so complicated that it discourages all but the most motivated parents and effectively screens out needy students. The introduction of a common application does not address a second demand from critics, including the teachers union — that the lotteries also be streamlined.
Michael Duffy, the head of the city's charter schools, said the city's goal was "to widen the access for families" to charter schools. Duffy previously spearheaded a push to increase recruitment by charter schools, and said that the new common application should help charters reach out to groups of students, including those learning English, that charter recruiters often miss.
Duffy told me about the plans today by phone, just after a meeting with representatives from the State University of New York and Board of Regents charter authorizers, who Duffy said agreed to join the city in using the new application.
Their decision comes just after a group for charter school parents announced its own effort to streamline the admission process.
Hundreds of city parents who spent the weekend hitting their e-mail refresh button now know which gifted and talented program has accepted their child.
Word came first in the form of e-mails sent at the hoppin' hour of, in one reader's case, 1:20 Saturday morning. (That was an hour and 20 minutes after the city's self-appointed (and extended) deadline to start notifying families.) Others, according to this blogger, still hadn't heard as of 10 p.m. yesterday. Snail-mail notice is expected to land in mailboxes today, a schools spokesman, Andrew Jacob, said.
The most interesting piece of news, though, will be where these parents decide to go. Many of the families applying to gifted programs also applied to private schools, and some are reporting choosing between the two kinds of kindergartens. Will the economy cause parents to spurn private schools?
Anyone who stayed until the bitter end of a three-hour meeting last night about kindergarten waitlists in Manhattan got a surprise: an uncharacteristic apology from a top DOE official.
Hundreds of parents turned out for a meeting of the parent council for District 2 to vent about having been shut out, at least for now, of their neighborhood schools. Last week, Manhattan parents protested at City Hall after 273 children were put on waiting lists at many elementary schools.
Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm arrived late to the meeting after spending her afternoon dealing with the swine flu outbreak in Queens. She sat quietly in the audience and listened to a tense back and forth between school officials and angry parents. The auditorium had mostly emptied and council members were preparing to adjourn when Grimm approached the microphone to make a surprise statement, which I captured on video above. Here's a key part of what she said:
I also want to say something that I thought I heard people from the DOE say tonight, but just in case you didn't, I want to say, I'm sorry. We're sorry. We have stumbled on some of this planning.
The two officials leading the meeting told parents during the meeting that most schools should be able to eliminate their wait lists by the middle of June, after families find out where they've been offered seats in gifted and talented programs. John White, who heads the Department of Education's efforts to manage school space, said that more children in each area qualified for gifted admissions than there are children on the waiting list.
Parents and elected officials gathered at City Hall today to protest crowding in Manhattan that has led to long waiting lists for public school kindergartens. (GothamSchools ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/28995913@N07/3508423223/##Flickr##)
A crowd of shell-shocked parents gathered outside City Hall this afternoon, angry that the Department of Education hasn’t found seats for the hundreds of rising kindergarten students who have been placed on waiting lists for next year at their local public schools.
The waiting lists, which include 273 names in just two Manhattan districts, mean that families in baby- and building-boom areas like the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, and Greenwich Village could find themselves unable to secure a spot at their neighborhood school's kindergarten.
The lists attracted extra attention yesterday after news leaked that the city was considering closing or relocating prekindergarten classes at two Greenwich Village elementary schools, PS 3 and PS 41, in order to make room for kindergartners.
Parents at the rally said they felt confused and powerless. "As far as I can tell, I don't have a Plan B — other than home school or moving to Jersey," said Jay Douglas, whose 4-year-old son is number 42 on a waiting list for PS 187 in Washington Heights.
Elected officials joined the parents at City Hall today to criticize city officials for not planning ahead to meet the demand for spots in public schools. Scott Stringer, Manhattan's borough president, said the DOE is "closing its eyes" to a widespread capacity problem, warning that taxpaying parents will pack up and move, taking their kids and tax dollars somewhere else if they can't enroll in their local public school.