Sunday, September 9, 2012

NYC School Information

Having recently shared some information about NYC schools with a parent who is new to dealing with the DOE, I thought it might be useful to also post some of that knowledge here:

The main DOE web site has lots of good info for families ( of course, including data on each school, but I think ( is an even better resource and since it has parent/student feedback, it often offers a more up-to-date and realistic view of each school.
NYC has lots of programs for English-language learners (ELL) or students with English as a second language (ESL) – not sure which terms the schools are using lately.  Schools get extra funds in their budget to cover students who need these programs, so parents shouldn’t be shy about insisting that their child gets the help he or she needs.  

Parents who have any concerns about their child's abilities (including things like the need for speech therapy) should inquire about whether their child's school will create an individualized education plan (IEP) for him/her.  There is no stigma attached to kids having IEPs – I know kids at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science who have them – so don’t be swayed by people who tell you they are just for slow learners.

Every school has two key resources that parents should know about:

1)      The parent coordinator (a position created by Bloomberg’s administration – one of the few really admirable things I think he’s done for the school system), whose sole responsibility is to serve as a liaison between the school and families.  Some PCs are better than others, of course, but even the worst should be able to hook new parents up with a “buddy” (probably via the PTA, since most schools are reluctant to give out family contact info) – a family familiar with the school, who can help parents prepare for their child's first day (e.g. are there lockers? which entrance do students in his grade use?  Who are the best teachers?  Do kids go off-campus for lunch?  Are homework assignments posted online somewhere?) and provide other insight into the sports program, etc.  The PC should also help parents understand how the school likes to communicate with parents (some use “backpack mail”; others rely on email or google groups or the school website) so families are sure that they are getting all the info they need throughout the school year.

2)      A guidance counselor.  Most middle school guidance counselors focus on helping students choose a high school, but they are also there to help kids with anything else that will make school life easier.  
Most schools have a “meet the teacher” night sometime early in the school year.  Parents should make their best effort to attend this as it is a great way to get a sense of what's ahead for the academic year.  The teachers (you should expect to meet all of the main subject teachers) generally present the year’s curriculum and provide info about how they like to be contacted.  There are parent/teacher conferences twice a year (November and March), but most teachers will also talk with parents on the phone or meet with them before or after school anytime parents have questions or issues.  At the very least, parents should expect that if they email or send a note to the school with their child, they will get a timely response.

8th grade is the year that kids apply to high school (applications are typically due in early-to-mid-December). It can also be time-consuming to visit and evaluate potential schools, but everyone must go through the application processas there are no “default” or regional high schools.

The NYC DOE can be bureaucratic and overwhelming at times, but there really are lots of great schools and caring teachers in the system, too!

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