Choosing the best Public School for your child

Identify Public Schools

Identify your zoned school
When trying to find the best public school option for your child is all you have to do is identify your zoned school?  Some people believe that is all that is involved but that is only one step (and the most important step of the process).   How do you first identify your zoned school?  The easiest way is to call 311 and give them your address.  The New York City Board of Education website also has a school zone map where one can type in their address and have their zoned school listed.  http://schools.nyc.gov/schoolsearch/

Identify Charter schools
It is important to identify what charter schools are available in your district.  Many charter schools are only open to children in a particular district and only those students can apply for the lottery.   The easiest way to find charter schools is to do a search on Insideschools.org, an independent organization with a mission to do independent evaluations of NYC’s schools.  A search can be done by borough and district seeking specifically charter schools.

Identify schools out of your zone
Contrary to public opinion, schools can and do take children who are not from their zone.  The reality however, is that this it is a difficult and often confusing process.  All schools first give priority to their zoned children.  In schools that face overcrowding (so many in NYC), it is very difficult for out of zone children to gain admission because the school is struggling to serve their own zoned children.

I called the front office of Astoria’s PS 166 and was told the following:  “We give priority to our zoned children for all placements, the second placement priority goes to siblings of children in our zone, the third priority goes to siblings out of zone, and the last priority goes to children who are not in our zone.”  This article’s author was able to locate placement for her child in three schools outside of her zone when she was looking for kindergarten options for academic year 2010/11.

Parents can also ask for a variance or a Placement Exception Request (PER).  The PER variance allows a transfer from a zoned school to another school under certain conditions such as medical, safety, childcare, or sibling placement issues.  I struggled to find much information about this on the Board of Education website but last year’s variance form can be located here:  http://www.nycsca.org/Community/Programs/EnvironmentalDueDiligence/px51Announcement/2011_12PERApplicationSummer.pdf

Assess
Once you’ve identified schools, you assess if the schools are a right match for your child and your family.  For the purposes of this article let’s assume you’ve already thought carefully about your child’s strengths and weaknesses and thought about what you value in education.  Are you focused on a competitive curriculum, are you highly academically driven, are you hoping for a strong arts curriculum, are you very concerned about the school community, etc.  These are all questions you will need to think about and it’s best if you think about these issues before you examine the schools as it will help you assess the schools strengths and weaknesses.  There are three main ways to assess schools- via online sources, via your network, and via direct observation at the schools.

Online tools
New York City schools serve millions of families and fortunately we have many online resources available.
The most important tool for public school research is the NYC Department of Education (DOE) website.   http://schools.nyc.gov/default.htm

The DOE website is a large and exhaustive website.  In addition to being full of information about general citywide policies in our schools you can also find very specific information about your school.  On the home- page you can type in the school you are investigating.  The link will give you a google map of the school’s location and direct you to two options- the school’s website or the DOE site about that school’s statistics.  When you follow the site for a your school’s statistics you will find it is dense and will require some patience to go through but you can find that school’s:   progress reports, Learning Environment Surveys (including surveys completed by parents, teachers, and students), Quality Review Reports, Accountability and Overview Reports, Comprehensive information Reports, School Budget Reports, Annual Arts in Schools Reports, Average Class Size Reports, Comprehensive Educational Plans, and Attendance Reports.  It is easy to get lost in all that data but allowing yourself some time to review it might give you some insight into the inner workings of your school.

The quality of the individual school websites vary.  Some schools barely have an online presence outside of that which the Board of Ed provides them and some schools, like PS 85 in Astoria, go to great length to have a website that includes school calendar, the school mission statement, disciplinary code, and parent handbook.

My favorite online public school resource is insideschools.org.  Insideschool.org is an independent guide to New York City’s public schools.  Their website consolidates statistical information about the school and reviews the schools.  The staff at insideschools is limited so sometimes their reviews are a little outdated but it gives you a good feel of the school.

Another online resource is greatschools.org, a national school database with parental reviews.  It is a great website and resource but it’s information about New York City schools is not always complete or comprehensive- so I would not advise to use that tool alone.  Finally schoolbooks.org and gothamschools.org are wonderful sites that cover news stories about New York City’s public schools.  They are both great websites to navigate.

Network resources
In addition to online resources, one of the most important resources is your network.  Other parents are a great source of information about your local school  As you speak to other parents recognize that the school decision process is a highly individualized process..  What they consider a “good school” for their child may not be what matches your educational values or your child’s needs.

If your child has attended a preschool or nursery school ask their teachers and administrators for help.  They should have lots of knowledge about schools near them.  They should know your child’s strengths and weaknesses and will likely help direct you to what they’ve seen work and not work with their former students.

Observe
Now that you’ve completed all the online research and you’ve talked to everyone you can about your public schools- you really just have to see for yourself.  Try to visit the school.  Unfortunately most schools in NYC do not give tours outside of a few open houses done at kindergarten registration time.  I’d still encourage that you call the parent-teacher coordinator and try to visit the school or try to at least speak to that person about the school.  When I was trying to learn about schools I visited many main offices asking for access.  A lot can be seen and felt about a school’s culture by waiting in a front office for a staff person to attend to you.

Apply
When applying for your zoned school- each school may have its own process.  Even if you are hoping for a lottery seat at a charter school, or you are sure your child will test well enough in the gifted and talented test,  or you have pending private school applications-  apply for your child to have a seat in your zoned school- to assure your child a seat.

The kindergarten application period for public schools begin on January 22, 2013 and runs through March 1, 2013.  The Board of Education website states that the timing of the application does not affect your seat.  When I applied to schools that were outside of my zone for my son I saw schools number the kindergarten applications as they arrived.  Also when I called the front desk of PS 166 in Astoria I was informed that once the zoned children were placed, and the siblings in zone, and the siblings out of zone, the non-zone children were placed in order of receipt of application.

The charter schools have their own application process.  Their deadlines run from January- April.  See the following articles for details about the charter school application process:

Decide and Register
The DOE website indicates that placement offers to the public schools will go out to families in early April.  The kindergarten pre-registration period is from April 8- April 26, 2013.
During that time the schools typically have their open house tours.  This is your final opportunity to examine the school and talk to the staff.  Unfortunately, there will be lots of people trying to gain information at that time also.  So the more homework you’ve done ahead of time the easier it will be for you.

Going through the NYC kindergarten process may not be easy but a bit of research goes a long way to helping you find quality public education for your child.  You can start that research this Saturday, January 12 at the Second Annual Astoria School Symposium from 9-1 at The Astoria Lutheran School at 31-20 21st Avenue in Astoria, NY 11105.    To attend the symposium you can register at www.astoriamoms.org.  For ongoing information like us at  http://www.facebook.com/AstoriaSchoolSymposium

submitted by:  Margarita Soto, Co-Director of Astoria School Symposium and Astoria mother of 3 children.

Resources:
http://www.schoolbook.org/guides/enrollment- a good general guide about public school enrollment
http://schools.nyc.gov –  new york city board of education website
http://insideschools.org. independent website assessing NYC’s public schools
http://www.greatschools.org/ independent national website assessing all schools

Astoria Public Schools:
P.S. 2 Alfred Zimberg
Grades K-5
22-45 41st Street, 11102
phone: (718) 728-1459

P.S. 17 Henry David Thoreau
Grades  K-5
28-37 29 Street, 11102
Phone: 718-278-1220

P.S. 111 Jacob Blackwell
grades K-8
37-15 13 Street, 11101
Phone: 718-786-2073
(shares space with Voice Charter School)

P.S. 112 Dutch Kills
dutchkills.ny.d30.schoolinsites.com
grades K-5
25-05 37th Ave., 11101
Phone: 212-639-9675

P.S. 122 Mamie Fay
grades- K-8
21-21 Ditmars Boulevard, 11105
Phone: 718-721-6410
Elementary District Wide G & T
Middle School Academy
SASF Afterschool

P.S. 166 Henry Gradstein
Grades  K-5
33-09 35 Ave., 11106
Phone: 718-786-6703
Elementary District Wide G & T
Dual Language Spanish & English
Busing Option to Afterschool Serious Fun at 85

P.S. 171 Peter G. Van Alst
Grades K-5
14-14 29 Ave., 11102
Phone: 718-932-0909

P.S. 234
Grades K-5
30-15 29 Street , 11102
Phone: 718-932-5650
Serious Fun Afterschool programing

P.S. 70 Queens
Grades K-5
30-45 42 Street, 11103
Phone: 718-728-4646

P.S. 76 William Hallet
Grades K-5
36-36 10 Street, 11106
Phone: 718-361-7464

P.S. 84 Steinway
Grades K-8
22-45 41 Street, 11105
Phone: 718-278-1915

P.S. 85 Judge Charles Vallone www.ps85q.org
Grades K-5
23-70 31 Street, 11105
Phone: 718-278-3630
STEM citywide G & T
Serious Fun Afterschool programing

District 30 Astoria Charter Schools – admissions through lottery, separate application

Academy of the City Charter School academyofthecity.org
36-14 12th Street 11106
Grades K-2 for the 2012-2013 school year (eventually up to 5th grade)
application due 4/5/2012 (online applications accepted)

Growing Up Green Charter Schoolwww.gugcs.org
39-27 28th Street, 11101
Phone: 347-642-4306
Grades K-4 for 2012-2013 school year (eventually up to the 5th grade)
Afterschool
application due 03/31/2012 (online applications accepted)

Our World Neighborhood Charter School www.owncs.org
36-12 35th Ave., 11106
718-392-3405
Grades K-8
Afterschool
application due 04/02/2012 (online applications accepted)

Voice Charter School   www.voicecharterschool.org
3715 13th Street, 11101
36-14 12th Street 11106
Grades K-5 for the 2012-2013 year (eventually up to 8th grade)
application due 4/3/2012

District 30 Charter School outside of Astoria
The Renaissance Charter School www.renaissancecharter.org
Grades K-12
35-59 81st Street  Jackson Heights, NY 11372
(718) 803-0060
application due 03/23/2012 (online applications accepted)

Unzoned schools in Queens:
The Queens College School for Math, Science, and Technology
PK-8
148-20 Reeves Avenue
Queens NY 11367 (Flushing)
online lottery in January open to residents of Queens

The Active Learning Elementary School
PK-3
137-20 Franklin Avenue
Queens NY 11355 (Flushing)
unzoned (admissions priority to district 25)