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Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
Center Park East parents lost their battle to open a middle school in 2013 but say they're heartened by Chancellor Walcott's promise to work with them to find space for a CPE middle school that will open by 2014.
It's no surprise that all of the DOE's proposals were passed at the March 20 PEP meeting, including a resolution to open East Harlem Scholars Academy II in the same buliding as Central Park East I and Central Park East High School. CPE parents had hoped to nab that soon-to-be-open space for a CPE middle school that would allow their elementary school children to continue to receive a progressive education after 5th grade. This is the fifth year in a row that the DOE rebuffed efforts by CPE I and CPE II to open a middle school. But uptown parents won't have to wait much longer for a progressive middle school.
Raven Snook, the mother of a CPE II student, told Insideschools that Walcott made a promise at the PEP meeting to find a site for the progressive middle school by this summer and open the school in fall 2014.
"While we were all disappointed that the March 20 PEP vote didn't go our way in terms of the co-location of two East Harlem Scholars Academy schools, we were all pretty thrilled when Dennis Walcott himself stood on the stage and promised we would indeed get a progressive middle school for fall 2014," said Snook. "So it was a bittersweet victory."
Education Department spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed Walcott's promise via email: "There will be middle school CPE seats available in 2014. We're continuing to engage with stakeholders in order to meet that goal."
Parents and administrators at Central Park East I and II say the Education Department undermined their efforts to grow into a middle school, giving away ideal "expansion space to a charter school just months after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said no space was available," DNAinfo reports.
Central Park East I and II are sister elementary schools that teach hands-on, progressive learning. For the last four years, one or the other has been asking the DOE for space to expand and have been given various reasons why the DOE would not grant them permission.
"Every year it's another excuse," former Central Park East 1 principal Julie Zuckerman told Insideschools this week at Castle Bridge, the progressive, dual language elementary school she founded in 2012 in Washington Heights.
Last year, the DOE told Zuckerman they would not allow an expansion because she was leaving to found Castle Bridge. This year, space is the issue, CPE I and II were told.
But the DOE is phasing out JHS 13, which shares the Jackie Robinson Education Complex with Central Park East 1 and Central Park East High School, opening up ideal space for the progressive elementary schools and high school to expand into middle school grades, parents say. Instead, in a surprise move, the DOE granted JHS 13's coveted space to East Harlem Scholars Academy I & II. East Harlem Scholars Academy I is already sharing the Jackie Robinson building and plans to move into its own building once it's constructed. It will use the extra space in the Jackie Robinson Complex to expand into a middle school: East Harlem Scholars Academy II, according to DNAinfo.
Zuckerman said Upper Manhattan is saturated with charter schools and is seriously lacking progressive school choices. "In Northern Manhattan, there's not a progressive middle school," she said.
CPE II mom Raven Snook said she and other parents are planning to rally in support of CPE I and II growing to include a middle school at the Wednesday, Feb. 27 hearing at the Jackie Robinson Complex about the proposed expansion of East Harlem Scholars Academy. (For more information, download their flyer.)
For more on the story see DNAinfo.
Six in ten city schools have physical education classes only once or twice a week for 45 minutes, way below what the state education department mandates, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) report based on a survey of public and charter schools in all five boroughs.
It's the city's youngest students who are most likely to miss out on vital PE time, says the Women's City Club of New York (WCC), a non-profit civic organization, that advocates for more physical education in all schools. Elementary grades do not have enough teachers citywide to meet state PE regulations, based on WCC's analysis of Independent Budget Office data. Yet, according to New York state regulations, the youngest children are supposed to get the most exercise. The rules call for daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students.
Middle school students have enough gym teachers and high schools, which require students to earn two PE credits in order to graduate, have a surplus of PE teachers, according to the IBO data.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she would focus less on standardized tests, give parents a stronger advisory role and extend the school day for low-income children if she is elected mayor.
Without criticizing Mayor Bloomberg, Quinn implied that, if elected, her administration would depart from some of Bloomberg's education policies. While Bloomberg has focused on standardized tests as a way of measuring progress, Quinn said "testing should not be more important than teaching" and should not define schools. While Bloomberg has fostered competition among schools to outperform each other, Quinn said her administration would instead promote more collaboration by identifiying what is working and encouraging schools to share best practices. She pointed to New Dorp High School's literacy program as an example of something that should be expanded to other city schools.
Charter schools are here to stay, Quinn said, but she suggested she would not expand their numbers significantly. "They're at a good level right now," she said. She pledged support to large high schools like New Dorp or Truman High School. Bloomberg's Education Department has closed dozens of large high schools in the Bronx and Manhattan, breaking them into smaller schools. Quinn said she supports the small schools, but large schools can be successful as well.
On the topic of closing schools, Quinn said she would like to see earlier intervention and mentioned a "red alert" system she would put in place to support "failing schools." "Instead of treating schools closings as a good in and of itself, we will treat it as a last resort," she said.
In another departure from Bloomberg, parents under the Quinn administration would have a stronger advisory role. She would like Community Education Councils to be elevated to the status of Community Boards, which advise city government on land-use. She said she's undecided on the topic of school networks, and welcomes parent input. The Bloomberg administration dismantled school districts based on a geographical area and replaced them with "networks" that may include schools from a number of boroughs.
Notably absent from her speech were mentions of the teacher's union, except to say both sides should "lower the temperature" on the debate over teacher evaluations. She also was mum on special education, which the city has begun to overhaul.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs will co-host a conversation with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on the future of schools in New York City.
Quinn will discuss her vision for "building a 21st century school system," including college and career readiness. She will also participate in a Q & A with Insideschools' founder and senior editor, Clara Hemphill. This event is one of a series of events with potential 2013 mayoral candidates sponsored by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. (See a write-up of a 2012 event with mayoral hopeful Tom Allon here.)
Quinn also spoke about city education policy, along with other potential mayoral candidates, at a GothamSchools event in November. See a rundown of that event here.
The Jan. 15 forum will be at The New School, at 65 West 11th Street, from 8:30 am to 10 am. Tickets are free but you must reserve a seat; RSVP here: http://strongerschools.eventbrite.com/. Do it soon! It's a small venue and seats are going fast.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott will launch the long-awaited Parent Academy this Saturday at Long Island University (LIU) in Brooklyn, with a focus on aiding families who are victims of the hurricane. But, in the aftermath of the storm, it's not clear how many parents actually know about the event or will be able to attend.
In an email invitation sent to parent leaders on Tuesday morning, Jesse Mojica, head of the DOE's Division of Family and Community Engagement, said that Hurricane Sandy made plain the need for the community to come together at this workshop and, "identify the opportunities and resources for not only student success, but also those outlets for aid in the midst of Hurricane Sandy."
The workshop begins with an 8:30 a.m. breakfast and is open to public school parents, administrators and staff. The DOE and LIU, a partner in the Parent Academy, will provide guidance to help families apply for FEMA and other sources of disaster aid. Mental health experts will advise teachers and parents on how to deal with students affected by the disaster. Additionally, there will be three sessions at the workshop to tackle specific topics: preparing for parent teacher conferences, supporting better parent-teacher communication and, "how to become a more active and engaged participant in your child’s education,"said Stephanie Browne, a DOE spokesperson.
Carmen Valdi lined up outside of PS 20 on the Lower East Side with her daughter on Monday morning, ready to return on the first day of school since Hurricane Sandy hit. Electricity came back on in Valdi's Lower East Side apartment on Friday but she still had no heat. She didn't expect the school to be any better off. "We're just coping," she told Insideschools.
But to Valdi's surprise, the school security guard welcomed Valdi and other parents and kids into a heated building.
Eight-seven percent of students showed up on Monday at the Essex Street school, said Principal James Lee. Not as good as PS 20's average 95% attendance rate but higher than the citywide attendance rate for Monday, for which the final tally was 85.2%, according to Education Department spokesperson Erin Hughes.
Lee -- whose Seward Park home still lacks heat and hot water -- greeted parents and school staff on the way into school asking: "how did you do?"
Gone are the days of morning class and afternoon jobs for 12th graders in New York City.
Principals say this fall, a policy requiring high school seniors to attend a full day of school will be newly-enforced. Even seniors on track to graduate, who only need to fill a few more requirements, must attend at least 5.5 hours of class and have lunch as part of their school schedule.
The policy, outlined in the DOE’s February 2012 High School Academic Policy Reference Guide (PDF), means that thousands of students are scheduled for more instruction time than is customary, stretching already tight school budgets and perhaps pushing some students to graduate early.
In April, Midwood High School announced this "dramatic change" on its website: "As of September 2012 all seniors will be scheduled for a minimum of six classes and lunch. This change to the programming of seniors is a city and state mandate and therefore there can be no exceptions."
According to the DOE, the policy is nothing new. "There are no new requirements," DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg said in an email. The 2012 High School Policy Handbook "consolidated the existing city and state policies. The DOE regularly monitors implementation of the requirements."
Many New York City schools call themselves "college prep" schools yet a surprising number of high schools don't offer the courses needed to prepare students for college. Unfortunately many students often don't find that out until after they are enrolled. It's not easy for parents and students to find out which schools offer college track courses such as chemistry, physics or pre-calculus. Course offerings are not listed in the high school directory or on a school's Progress Report.
Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs are developing a new high school score card (PDF) called Inside Stats. Clara Hemphill presented the proposed scorecard at June 28 forum at the New School. Inside Stats will mine existing Education Department data, from school Progress Reports and Learning Environment Surveys, to offer a more complete picture of high schools.
We live-tweeted highlights from @insideschools under #NYCschools.
We plan to continue to tweak the score card so please give us your feedback in comments. What other data would you like to see?