I didn’t grow up in New York City. My African-American husband did, though. He, now a teacher, was the one who first suggested that finding a school for our children might not be as simple as I assumed when he told me, “I know what happens to Black kids in public schools.”
I didn’t know how right he was until my son, now a senior at Stuyvesant High School, began New York City’s complicated process for school admissions. By the time I was going through it for our third, I knew more than I ever thought it was possible (or necessary) to know about the city’s public, private, charter, religious and gifted school options.
And I knew one more thing – whether deliberately or due to incompetence, the NYC Department of Education (DOE) goes out of its way to make tracking down the information you need to make an informed choice and then act on that choice, needlessly and excessively difficult.
The city laments the lack of ethnic diversity in their public school gifted programs, yet very little is done to publicize that you need to sign up for the qualifying test in October – nearly a year before your child would start Kindergarten.
They wring their hands about having some of the most segregated public schools in the country – both by race and income – then keep quiet about neighborhood unzoned schools, where middle-class parents send their children in order to avoid failing public schools.
Conversely, those same officials vilify families who choose charter options by accusing them of depriving local schools of top-performing students with highly-involved parents.( In 2010, then-Councilwoman Gale Brewer threatened to strangle any parent who moved their child from a public to charter school.) Yet unzoned schools, which do the exact same thing and sometimes have even more freedom to pick and choose their classes, are given a pass.
As I waded through my own options, I wondered how parents who don’t know they have any beyond their assigned school, or ones where English might not be their first language (I was born in the former USSR and I know what it’s like to play translator) could possibly be expected to advocate for their child. And I strongly suspected the DOE wants to keep it that way.
I wrote my first book, “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten” specifically so that all parents could know all their options — and how to get them. I included links to every form, from Kindergarten Connect, to Request for (Gifted) Testing, to the Charter Center’s Common App, and I broke down what parents should be doing month by month to make sure they didn’t miss a single deadline. I also made the book electronic, so that it could be updated the minute the DOE made one of its arbitrary changes — such as when it altered the process for how to apply to a Dual Language program literally in the middle of the admissions cycle. Unless you’re like me and read the DOE’s press releases for fun, you would have had no idea and might have lost the chance to enroll your child.
The book proved to be such a success — not merely with the demographic I’d initially intended it for, but with all parents; apparently even native English-speakers with advanced college degrees feel overwhelmed and confused by the hoops they’re forced to jump through — that I wrote a follow up, “Getting Into NYC High School.” Because getting into NYC High-School makes getting into NYC Kindergarten feel like frolicking amongst warm, fuzzy kittens and puppies.
I like to think of myself as the Paul Revere of NYC Schools. I’m the lunatic running down the street, shouting, “The admissions process starts sooner than you think! Educate yourself! Don’t get left behind! Don’t let anyone intimidate you! Do what’s best for your child!”
And I’m fervently hoping that those who need it the most are listening.