Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña plans to preserve the hallmarks of New York City’s gifted programs, the immensely popular classes and schools that draw high achievers but have been criticized as shutting out low-income children.
Ms. Fariña, in an interview this week covering a variety of issues, pledged to continue using a contentious gifted admissions exam for 4- and 5-year-olds that was put in place under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. She also promised to preserve the number of gifted programs citywide.
“What exists right now is serving the purpose of communities, and I have no intention of touching it,” she said during an interview at the Education Department headquarters on Monday.
She outlined plans to improve academic options for low-income students, including getting teachers at high-performing schools to advise teachers at struggling ones, and strengthening instruction in algebra, where many middle and high school students founder.
But Ms. Fariña, a longtime teacher, principal and administrator who got a quick introduction to politics this year, was careful to note that she intended no changes that could drive middle- and upper-class families from the system.
She said she opposed eliminating zone-based elementary school admission, which has been pushed by some advocates as a way of increasing racial diversity.
“You would find parents who have invested in certain places,” she said. “You’re not going to tell them this is your zoned school but you can’t go.”
And while she said she planned to expand tutoring for low-income children seeking entry to the city’s elite high schools, she said she would not mandate the return of an admissions program that allowed some disadvantaged students into the schools even if they did not score high enough on the entry test.
Some advocates had hoped Ms. Fariña would overhaul the gifted and talented programs, which they see as a critical front in the effort to reduce inequality in the school system. As principal of Public School 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 1990s, Ms. Fariña ended a popular gifted program, arguing that students would be better served if they were mixed by ability.
In recent years, the city has struggled to increase the number of black and Hispanic students in gifted programs. In 2007, under Mr. Bloomberg, the Education Department instituted a citywide test that it hoped would make the admissions process fairer, replacing a system in which districts set their own standards. Instead, it wound up widening racial and socioeconomic disparities, with students in wealthier districts qualifying for gifted seats in far greater numbers than their poorer counterparts.
“The inequities in the current makeup of our gifted and talented programs are a citywide disgrace,” said James H. Borland, a professor of education at Columbia University. Professor Borland suggested that the city judge students relative to the performance of their neighborhoods, rather than the whole city.
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Ms. Fariña said she was eager to bring strategies used in gifted programs, including project-based learning, to schools across the city. She said bright children outside gifted programs could be served by other means, including clubs, lunchtime programs, and science, technology, engineering and math enrichment.
“There’s a lot of other ways to reach the needs of these kids,” she said.
Nearly six months into her tenure as schools chief under Mayor Bill de Blasio, Ms. Fariña said she was focused on improving the quality of teaching, especially at low-income schools. She said she was proud of her efforts to require new principals to have more teaching experience, to reduce the role of standardized tests and to negotiate a teachers’ contract that included bonuses for educators who take on leadership roles.
“We have changed the climate in terms of people feeling good about the jobs they’re doing,” she said.
Mr. de Blasio has promised to involve parents and neighborhood leaders more actively in the work of schools. On Tuesday, he announced a $52 million grant to create 40 community schools, which combine traditional academic programs and social services with the aim of addressing issues like chronic absenteeism.
Given a new state law requiring the city to provide free space to new charter schools or to help pay their rent, Ms. Fariña said she did not expect battles over space to end anytime soon, given the scarcity of available classrooms and the city’s efforts to expand prekindergarten programs.
Job protections for teachers may also emerge as a topic of contention. A California court recently found teacher tenure laws unconstitutional, and legal scholars expect copycat cases.
Ms. Fariña said she did not believe tenure laws hindered education. But she said principals had to be vigilant and work to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
“Getting tenure might be a goal, but also removing tenure when necessary is also a goal,” she said.
Ms. Fariña said that she was enjoying her job, and that she would stay on at least through the end of Mr. de Blasio’s current term. She said her biggest regret was a remark she made at the height of a snowstorm in February. Defending a decision to keep schools open, she said that it was a “beautiful day” outside, even as snow and freezing rain continued to hit the ground.
She said that the line had become a conversation starter, and that strangers shouted it to her on the street. “It’s going to be on my tombstone,” she said, “and I can live with it.”
Great news! It will now be easier to apply to kindergarten in NYC. You can apply on-line. To read this article at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE.
They line up in the predawn chill, clutching original birth certificates and passports, utility bills and lease agreements, all for the chance to enter their children into one of New York City’s most agonizing lotteries: the kindergarten application process.
For these parents, who are required to fill out forms in person at each school they want their young children to be considered for, the kindergarten application period each winter means long lines and stacks of paperwork. Starting next year, however, parents will be able to apply online through a Department of Education Web site, ranking their school choices and submitting a single application.
The online application, called Kindergarten Connect, was tested in 2012 in three districts — one each in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan — and “significantly more” parents applied early for kindergarten spots as a result, the city said.
Parents expressed support for the move, the city said, with 75 percent of 1,800 respondents in a survey praising the online option.
Though the process is evolving, school options and priority enrollment rules, like preferential admission for siblings of current students, will not change, the city said. All prospective kindergartners are entitled to attend public schools in their zones, which are determined by where they live. But many parents also apply for magnet programs or more coveted schools outside their zones.
Parents may still register their children the old way — in person, even on the first day of school. But in recent years the Department of Education has opened the application process several months in advance, and at some schools so many students apply that seats are assigned by lottery. Those who are not picked, as well as those applying later, may be offered seats in schools with open seats.
The application period, which normally begins toward the end of January with a deadline around the beginning of March, will remain unchanged.
The process at charter schools, which already use an online enrollment Web site, will not change.
At popular public elementary schools, which often receive so many applications their admittance rates resemble those of selective colleges, the news is likely to be greeted with relief. Under the current system, staff members at each school must check and sort all the applications, including birth certificates or passports and two items as proof of address. (Under the new system, parents will submit those documents in person after their children are assigned to a school.)
At the Brooklyn New School in Carroll Gardens, a parent coordinator transcribes about 650 applications each year into a computer database, said Anna Allanbrook, the principal. The school accepts about 100 kindergartners each year.
The coordinator “does the job of I don’t know how many people,” Ms. Allanbrook said. “It’s really a tremendous amount of time.”
Her only concern, she said, was that the ease of submitting applications to multiple schools from home would encourage parents to apply to more schools just because they were well-regarded, without having done their research. In-person applications encourage parents to visit, she said.
Still, she applauded the change, saying, “I think that’s what we should be doing in this day and age.”
I wanted to pass this information on from the NYC Department of Education to NYC families whose kids will be applying to kindergarten next year. Applications are due!
The deadline to submit your child’s kindergarten application for the 2013-2014 school year is right around the corner. As a reminder, you must apply by Friday, March 1, 2013. As you explore your options, please keep in mind the following updates:
Elementary School Directories
The 2013-2014 Elementary School Directories are now available on the Elementary School Publications website!
Each borough’s Directory contains information about the kindergarten admissions process, schools located in that borough, district maps, a list of charter schools, and a summary of all public kindergarten programs in New York City. Use the Directories as a resource to help you decide where you would like to submit a kindergarten application.
Districts 7 and 23 School Fairs
If you live in District 7 (South Bronx) or District 23 (Brownsville), we strongly encourage you to attend one of our school fairs this week. The fairs provide a wonderful opportunity for families to speak face-to-face with school representatives, ask questions about the enrollment process, and learn more about the different elementary schools in the district.
District 7 Kindergarten Fair
Wednesday, February 6th
P.S. 5 Port Morris (564 Jackson Avenue)
District 23 Kindergarten Fair
Thursday, February 7th
P.S. 156 Waverly (104 Sutter Avenue)
Remember, there are no zoned schools in District 1, District 7, and District 23. You can apply to schools in these districts online, by phone, and in person at an Enrollment Office. For more information about these districts, visit the Kindergarten Admissions website.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at ES_Enrollment@schools.nyc.gov. We wish you the best of luck during this exciting time.
Elementary School Admissions Team