Foster care families gather in a gymnasium on the eighth floor at Brooklyn Tech on Saturday to learn more about the high school application process.
Most of the roughly 30,000 students and family members who passed through Brooklyn Technical High School last weekend had to traverse the Citywide High School Fair on their own.
But high above the fair's hustle and bustle, a small group of at-risk middle school students got a helping hand.
For the second year, the Department of Education partnered with the Administration for Children's Services and private donors to host the New York Goal Weekend at the fair. The event gives seventh- and eighth-grade students who are in foster care extra assistance as their search for a high school gets underway.
ACS officials started of the program in 2010 — and merged it with the education department last year — because they saw students in foster care struggle to navigate the labyrinthine process of selecting, ranking, and applying for high school placement.
“It’s already confusing for a regular kid, but if you can imagine what this is like for a foster child, they have a lot already going on in their lives,” said Suzanne Sousa, ACS's director of development and special programs, who oversaw the event on Saturday.
Volunteers prepare for more than a thousand city principals to check in at the conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Tech.
A year ago, Department of Education officials gathered more than a thousand city principals in a hot auditorium for a speech by Common Core architect David Coleman. The energy in the room was "truly off the charts" according to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and it set the tone for this school year.
This year's principals' leadership conference, held Saturday at Brooklyn Technical High School, took a lower-key tone, focusing not on big ideas but on the nitty-gritty of implementing existing ones. A series of workshops delved into the Common Core learning standards, evolving state tests, looming special education reforms, and observing teachers — all issues that have dominated the city's policy agenda for more than a year.
Instead of Coleman, whose standards are new for New York, the principals heard from Robert Evans, a clinical and organizational psychologist, and received copies of his book, "The Human Side of Change." Evans urged principals to give the Common Core a positive spin while rolling it out in their schools.
That's exactly what Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky urged when he instructed principals to continue to communicate the importance of the Common Core, especially as the state transitions to assessments based on the standards.
"As principal, one of your biggest challenges is to create a sense of urgency around this work without creating a sense of panic or anxiety," he said during a portion of the day that was open to reporters.
Eighth-graders and their parents began queuing up outside Brooklyn Technical High School on Saturday an hour before the annual citywide high school fair's start time, and by 9:45 a.m. a long line of families wrapped around the block. When the doors opened at 10 a.m., they poured into the stuffy building, some of the tens of thousands of families that passed through the fair this weekend.
Inside, Brooklyn Tech's eight stories were something of a labyrinth — but no more so than the high school admissions process itself. Parents and students that we met outlined varying strategies for navigating the fair and the journey to high school.
Laura Napiza with daughter Samantha, left, who wants to be a teacher
Laura Napiza and her daughter Samantha tried traversing the hallways but seemed completely lost. “We just got here and it’s very overwhelming,” Laura Napiza said. “We’re looking for a high school with a strong academic program that also has something that she’d be interested in. Right now she wants to be a teacher.”
They said their goal was to visit the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts, and the Sciences and Maspeth High School — if they could find those tables. Saying they planned to inquire about graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratios and extracurricular options, the mother and daughter disappeared into the melee.
Spencer Jackson and Beverly Brailsford creating a plan of attack for the fair
Beverly Brailsford and her son Spencer Jackson came in with a clear plan of action: Head straight to the seventh floor and methodically work downwards, hitting only the schools with strong academic programs and track and field teams. First, though, the pair found a quiet hallway where they could sit down and prepare. With the high school directory in her lap, a pen in her hand, and a notebook turned to a fresh page, Brailsford took notes on schools such as Aviation High School and Medgar Evers College Preparatory School while Jackson played on his phone. “I think it’s more of a mom thing,” Brailsford said of the process. “As long as they have what he’s into, it works for him.”
Seven takeaways from last night's marathon Panel for Educational Policy meeting, for those who don't have time for 6,000-plus words, minute-to-minute updates, or actually traveling to Brooklyn Tech in the storm:
1. Bloomberg's agenda was unsurprisingly approved: 10 schools will phase out, four new co-locations will occur. But on the panel, opposition now comes from more members than simply the Manhattan and Bronx appointees.
Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president's appointee, is no longer the sole voice of opposition on the panel. And while Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr.'s appointee has been making opposition known for a while now, the other borough representatives are beginning slowly to join.
Only mayoral appointees, for instance, voted in favor of proposals that would benefit the Success Charter Network schools run by CEO Eva Moskowitz, a former City Council member and perennial mayoral hopeful.
Besides 'no' votes, another manifestation of opposition to Bloomberg came in the form of a skirmish. From 9:53 p.m.:
Audience members told Anna that they saw Sullivan push Morales from behind. Then Tino Hernandez, the panel’s chair, and Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras got between them and escorted Sullivan back to his seat. Sullivan then told the audience that one of the mayoral appointees on the panel had approached him to "taunt" him, kicking off the clash. He proposed that the panel postpone their votes to another day on account of the bad weather, but this motion failed.
When the parents behind Anna saw the tussle begin, they started yelling: “Security! Where is security?” A few security guards did edge onto the stage but then backed away, Anna reports.
Sullivan told the Daily News that he was just tapping Morales on the back.
2. Families reached out across the closure aisle, sometimes poetically.
From Anna's 9:12 p.m. report:
… some MCA [Metropolitan Corporate Academy, slated for closure] kids are rapping about racism and school closure. The charter school kids and parents are clapping the beat.