I didn’t always write about education.
But then I had children. And I applied those children to schools in New York City. And I found out how difficult it was. And I decided to help other parents, this time by writing books about getting into NYC Kindergarten and NYC High School.
But I still loved the soaps. Because I always have to find out: What happens next?
Little did I know that educational consulting would provide the same level of suspense.
I can meet with families and we can come up with a list of public, charter, dual language, gifted & talented, zoned, unzoned, parochial and independent schools for them to apply to. I can provide an online calculator to help them figure out the best date for their children to take the Gifted & Talented, Hunter, and private school tests. Together, we wait to find out where they get placed for General Education Kindergarten, for their G&T/Hunter score, for the lottery that will decide their child’s future.
And then the wait-lists! Talk about daytime drama! It can go on for months!
Back in March, a frustrated mom wrote me to ask:
I‘m being told by the parent coordinator at our zoned school that general ed school choice is not real, and my child will be attending the zoned school no matter what I ranked. The parent coordinator did not schedule any open houses or info sessions before the kindergarten app deadline because she thinks it is a bogus exercise. She chided me for thinking my child could end up going elsewhere and really demonstrated hostility to the idea of school choice. She also disparaged the idea of parents applying for G&T, and spouted off about how special ed kids bring down the test scores at her school which also turned me off because my child gets some speech and OT services this year. All in all, she made me quite nervous about sending my child to that school and I’m feeling quite trapped right now. So is the parent coordinator correct? Is the whole ranking process just a sham?
I tried my best to reassure her. Read my reply, here.
Last week, she contacted me with the following update:
I was finally able to register my child at our 1st choice school, which is not our zoned school. In the end, it required a lot of persistence and eventually a physical letter sent by certified mail to the DOE. I have been told many times that the DOE is much more responsive to physical letters. Apparently there is no central database so emails or voice calls do not create an audit trail, but physical letters sent in the mail do.
I was told by a person familiar with the school administration that another student from a neighborhood farther away was also trying to get in, and in the words of this person, the school administration is choosing not to accommodate the other student in spite of having room. The decision appears to be based solely on distance from the school, though both the child and school are in the same borough.
It is my experience that many people in the DOE and rank and file school administration are highly resistant to any change to the zoned school approach, and they actively hinder the effort, to the detriment of the student population and the schools. Those parents who are trying to bring their child to a school of their choice, which currently has room to accommodate them, are being hindered by a school administration who doesn’t want a student who lives farther away. My own child would not have been placed there were it not for persistent effort, back channel communication through contacts and creating a paper trail at the DOE of my request for placement.
To give another example, our zoned school has a brand new facility that is shiny and beautiful. As I’ve mentioned, the parent coordinator at our zoned school is opposed to the idea of school choice. She never held open houses or tried to get parents interested in ranking her school on their kindergarten application. Fast forward to now, the school is losing nearly a dozen teachers this fall due to underenrollment. The DOE spent several years and countless millions of dollars on renovating this school that was formerly overcrowded. It should be a jewel in the kindergarten application process. But, because of administrative resistance at the rank and file level, it is closing classrooms and losing teachers. The school is far closer to where we live and we are choosing to go to a school farther away because of their approach to communicating with parents.
So, yes, school choice in NYC is real. But it isn’t easy.
The fiction writer in me wants to call the above tale a happy ending. But the education consultant knows this isn’t the end of the journey… it’s just the beginning.
Meanwhile, the soap-opera junkie wants to hear from you – tell us your Happily Ever After tale of NYC schools, below!
And read more happy endings (plus tips for how you can have one, too) at: