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Monday, September 29, 2008

Sign This Now!

This is what Brooklyn is about! Grassroots community activism. Brand new neighbor, Melissa Morgenlander, wants to know if you want a Public PreK Early Childhood Center in the northern part of District 15 (Sunset Park already has the terrific Magnet School for Early Childhood)

I did some very fast numbers based on the Accountability reports from last year. The schools I listed were ones that are not within range of the Magnet School for Early Childhood and they didn't seem to be breaking even on their preK/ K populations. Check out 107, 146, 261 and 321 in particular. As the buildings on 4th Ave. fill up 321 will need it's preK classrooms for K and the population at 124 and 295 will most certainly increase.
PS 10, prek 54 seats, K 87 seats
PS 15, prek 29 seats, K 50 seats
PS 29, prek 54 seats, K 79 seats
PS 39, prek 36 seats, K 61 seats
PS 58, prek 70 seats, K84 seats
PS 107, prek 18 seats, K 84 seats
PS 124, prek 35 seats, K 39 seats
PS 130, prek 52 seats (but none of them is full day) K 83 seats
PS 146, prek 36 seats, K 81 seats
PS 261, prek 36 seats, K 108 seats
PS 295, prek 36 seats, K 52 seats
PS 321, prek 52 seats(but only 18 are full day) K 191 seats

Even if your children are too old for preK, I urge you to take a look at Melissa's petition. Help your neighbors!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

For People Who Love to Hate the Progress Reports

Okay, I did this quiz and I thought it was fun. Its just shows you where I'm at these days.
Celia Oyler's second NYC Progress Report Quiz

New 6-12 Grade Schools for District 15

New 6-12 school for District 15: Brooklyn Prospect Charter School

A new public charter school is opening to 6th grade students in September 2009 to Community School District 15 students. For fifth grade families, they will be hosting several Student/Family information sessions throughout the district over the next several months. Students will be admitted through lottery. The school will follow an International Baccalaureate Program.

Info Sessions for parents and students:

October 6th and October 27th, 2008
6:00 to 8:00PM,
New York Methodist Hospital's East Pavilion Auditorium in Park Slope
Come and meet the team and learn about this new school. RSVP is required;

Additionally the Brooklyn Prospect Team is happy to visit your elementary school. Speak with your parent coordinator or guidance counselor and contact Brooklyn Prospect Charter School for a visit.

But it doesn't stop there!

The "SPEAC School" Sunset Park Education in Action Community School's proposal to open has been favorably reviewed by the DOE but they won't be given full approval until they locate a space. They will be a very intimate 6-12 school that focuses on personal and community wellness, community based projects and interest driven learning.

This school is the little engine that could. Help make this dream a reality and help them find a location or partner. 718-851-3936,

All Hail Sunset Park Parents!

The parents in Sunset Park are awesome. I attended a town hall meeting last night in celebration of their 40 year effort (supported by hundreds of parent activists and community organizers, yes!) The auditorium was packed to capacity with standing room spilling out into the halls.

Sunset Park has schools! A brand spanking new state of the art, 1650 seat HS building is going up on 34th St. and 4th Ave. to open Sept. 09. The construction authority was there to give progress reports (not grades.) It is on schedule.
This school that has already chosen it’s Principal, Corrine Vinal (a longtime educator and experienced administrator). It will have three learning communities within the school: Performing and Visual Arts, Health and Human Services, Business and Entrepreneurship. The themes were chosen by the community, as was the currently unprecedented model of having one principal to oversee the school. It is not a screened program. They are focused on college prep and there is priority for Brooklyn students.

8th graders, if you want to place this school on your list of 12, this is how you do it. It sounds weird, but it IS the procedure straight from the DOE. This school will not be listed in the directory. Don’t panic. Fill out your application. Don’t list Sunset Park HS yet. Hand in your registration on or before the appointed day in the fall. File a NEW FORM during the February 2009 application period for new schools. This form overrides the previous form. Rank Sunset Park High School along with your other schools in the order you want them. If you have questions about admission call OSEPO (212) 374-2363. If you have questions about the high school call the Sunset Park Task Force (718) 788-3500.

But wait there is more…for you preschoolers. There is a brand new public Early Childhood Center being built on 4th Ave. and 64th St. (on the 4th Ave. subway line) The first green designed school in Brooklyn. It will house 18 classrooms PreK through 2nd grade. It opens in 2010. This is a trend that local principals endorse. As the Elementary Schools become more crowded and PreK programs lose their spots, it makes more sense to group the PreKs into a centralized site. More on that later.

...heh Park Slope Parents, that sounds like a good idea! What is the Diocese doing with the St. Thomas Aquinas school building on 4th Ave. and 9th St? Would it be enough PreK seats for everybody who wants one, and relieve the overcrowding in all of our Kindergarten classes? You guys need to start making some calls.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is This Public School Any Good?

This is an essay that I wrote for the new issue of the most excellent blogazine Hipslopemama. Check out the new issue this weekend, and come to the Family Fair they are sponsoring with BAX on Sat. Sept. 27 from 11:30-4:30.

When you google your zoned elementary school, a lot of different sites will pop up;,, maybe the school’s website or the DOE’s website. Who do you believe and how do you decide whether to trust your darling to a school that gets a 4 out of 10 or a “D” and is considered a “noteworthy” school elsewhere?

Everyone is always asking me how I feel about “Great Schools”. Any information is a valuable resource as long as you really understand what it is telling you. “Great Schools” score is tabulated from the standardized test scores released by the DOE and the State. There needs to be some standard by which to measure a school, but if they live and die by teaching to the test will they give your child the type of quality education that she deserves? We could argue all day about the validity of test scores. The reality is that even a parent that is skeptical of their value has a hard time ignoring them when they are so seemingly irrefutable. Parents that write into the site can also use a star rating system for other aspects of the school’s environment and they can list comments. Sometimes parents are specific enough to give me a picture of the school, and sometimes it is just too vague. In many cases the “Great Schools” rating is low and the parents comments rate the school very high. That is just a good indication that you need to dig deeper.

The DOE (NYC Dept. of Education) has been doing school Progress Reports (the school letter grades) for two years now. You may have already heard the startling news that the highly popular PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights has received an F. Is it a case of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Has the wishful thinking of Brooklyn Heights parents clouded their judgment and the DOE is exposing a failing school despite the great press the principal has been getting? The grading system was put in place to help parents easily understand the progress that a school is making as well as help the DOE identify schools that are in trouble. Ever since it was instituted it has been under attack by parents and educators for being a flawed assessment and opaque to parents.

The Progress Reports group the schools into cohorts based on need (how many children get free school lunch and other demographic breakdowns) and uses these groupings to compare schools. There may be a problem in a school like PS 8 that has had a drastic shift in population in the last couple of years. The lower grades with a high population of middle and upper income children are not tested (and the DOE says they were considered when assigning its cohort) but the more challenged upper grades were the ones that were tested for proficiency. So the school is judged against other schools with high populations of school ready, upper income children, but the tests were given to the upper grades which have a much more diverse and challenged population.

The DOE uses three things to judge each school; the environment, the student’s test score performance and the progress made by the most challenged students to progress toward proficiency. The environment score is created by assessing surveys from parents, staff and students. Some experts have questioned the validity of this method as an unbiased measure. The proficiency part of the grade comes from the test scores. The third part, the progress of its most challenged students, counts for over 50% of the school’s grade. One argument made by the DOE is this measure is looking at each individual child’s progress from year to year. The problem is that the tests are on different skills and a different curriculum. It is difficult to charge change in proficiency when the test is on completely different skills. I did great in algebra but not so hot in calculus. I am not going to blame my high school principal for that one. As the weeks wear on we will hear a lot of experts weigh in. I am not being an apologist for PS 8. I just don’t like the letter grade as a helpful guide for parents, period. It seems to be an unbiased measure, but with all the DOE’s good intentions it is just too blunt an instrument for me to use.

Then there are the reviews at and Clara Hemphill’s excellent books. I am a completely unabashed supporter of the work that they are doing. The reviews are as objective and well written as a parent could hope for. You have to keep in mind though, that a school will try and put its best foot forward when Insideschools arrives to observe the program. They will undoubtedly be introducing them to the star teachers and highlighting the programs that they are proudest of. This doesn’t’ keep Insideschools from occasionally seeing troubling situations and reporting on them. The fact that there are also comments by students and parents is extremely helpful and often speaks specifically to concerns that prospective families have. Insideschools lists the test scores but within the larger picture of the school as a whole, where they should be.

I wish there were two sets of test scores every year. One set paid for by the DOE and one set paid for by the UFT (United Federation of Teachers). Now there would be some numbers that showed the true range of a school’s ability. Then parents could find the average and have a sense of how the school might really be performing. Finally, after you have scoured the Internet, the DOE and school websites for current reports, scores, reviews and parent opinions, it is your gut feelings about a school that really matter. Do you like what you see, how they treat you and answer your questions? Do you feel welcomed by the parent community as they pick up their children outside school at the end of the day? In a changing neighborhood, even a year can make a difference. The websites sometimes don’t tell the most up to date story of a school in transition. Only you can be the final judge.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Newsletter #2, 9/12/08

The second newsletter is out, with information on the citywide high school fair 9/20 and 9/21, Williamsburg/Greenpoint School Fest 9/20, Dumbo's Family Fair 9/20, New York Family Brooklyn Magazine's Family Expo 9/21, BAX Family Fair on 9/27, Conferences by the UFT and parent organizations in support of families and schools and many free and paid opportunities for enrichment for your kids. I also list information on school tours and schools with spots still available for this fall.

I had some glitches in providing the newsletter through this site, but you can receive it as an email if you subscribe to

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My 15 minutes

My husband got his wish. I am the centerfold of a glossy magazine. There isn't a staple through my navel though, just my pithy comments on finding schools in Brooklyn. So run right out to turquoise New York Family-Brooklyn box on the corner and snag your free September issue and check me out.