New Urban Team Sport (NUTS)

I invented a new sport in my mind tonight. “In my mind” is my favorite kind sport because I always win. I went to Parent/Teacher conferences at Murrow. We are blessed with a “Type A” perfectionist. I have nothing to complain to her teachers about and it is usually a 3-minute love fest. (Hey, I like my complements cheap and often) The trick is to see all of the teachers in the 2 hours allotted. I need my teacher face time.

Let me explain the rules. You wait with hundreds of other parents in a giant shivering mass outside the school doors like it’s a Who concert with festival seating. (Imagine how those teachers feel, trapped inside with only an endless line of “issues” before them) If you are an “elite” NUTS player like myself, you have a list of teachers and room numbers coded by location. In a school the size of Murrow, this is key. You race to the farthest room, sign your name on the list outside the door and repeat on all lists in the near vicinity. Then you send your husband who is having trouble reading the map to sign up on other floors. (This may be a tactical error) If you are positioned outside the door when your name comes up on the list, you may go in and have your 3 minutes. If you arrive back to the classroom after your name has already been called you go to the end of the now endless list. The art of it is to fit in a couple of the less popular teachers between the majors. The team who finishes all their conferences in the least amount of time gets to go home and have a stiff drink.

10pts off for brow beating the poor student organizing the list outside the door.
5pts for doing the quick switch with the team right behind you on the list when you arrive just a minute too late.
2pts off for getting cornered by the candy sellers
10pts for giving them a $5 and not taking any candy
5pts for snagging a chair
10pts off for erasing names ahead of you on the list
10pts for visiting the phys ed. Teacher
Good Luck and may the GAMES BEGIN!


Billionaires fixing schools

I read the How many billionaires does it take to fix a school system article in the NY Times Magazine with interest this weekend. The article wasn't about the public/private partnerships that are always on my mind. The Park's Dept. has the conservancies and the schools have the billionaires and the PTA grant writers. It has worked for some, which is lovely for the parks and schools in neighborhoods with the cash and the will (in that order) to do something civic minded. The problem is the inequity. Public education is the great democratizing dream. But that isn't what I want to talk about.
It was fascinating to hear how the new billionaires are giving. I like the nibbleness and pragmatic outlook of the Gates Foundation. I like that they don't need their names on a building, that they want to effect change and that is trickier. I thought it was very good advice for them to "spend their money the way they made their money, which means investing in great people, testing out new ideas, being tough-minded in evaluating what's working and what isn't." What makes me nervous is scope of change. I don't like the thought that the NYC school system is a behemoth and we have to turn the whole honking thing around. That the big money goes to developing a strategy that is usually too broad to be effective and not given enough time to develop on the ground. The problem is that every child and every community is different. The school system is not a factory producing widgits. There are no big strategies that will ever work.
The only policy that really makes sense to me is the creation of the Empowerment schools. The principal, the teachers and the parents are the only ones who know what is really working. The article mentioned a "Parent's union" and it made great sense to me. I wish a billionaire would finance a lobbyist for the Parents Union so our needs and wishes would be the first and loudest voice in the room.


What's new with public school Pre-K

Here is some early news about the Pre-K registration for 2008-2009. From a memo to Principals.

  • All applications for public school Pre-K will be handled in a centralized process through the Office of Student Enrollment. (CBO process is unchanged)
  • Applications for the DOE process will be available in schools and at the Enrollment Offices the week of March 24.
  • Any schools that have already made offers or accepted applications for Pre-k seats must notify parents that these offers are voided. Parents must submit a new Pre-K application to be considered for a seat.
  • April 11: all applications for public school Pre-K seats must be postmarked by this date.
  • Week of May 19: Parents will receive notification about their child’s placement in a public school Pre-K
  • Parents should apply directly to CBOs for spots in their programs. The CBOs will notify parents directly about their application status.
  • For Kindergarten and 1st grade apply directly to your zoned school.
  • For Unzoned schools such as The Brooklyn New School, The Children’s School and Charter Schools, apply directly to the schools for their lotteries.
  • Parents applying for a variance (placement exception request) should get the form from the Enrollment Office in the summer and submit it by the end of Sept. (the deadline was Sept. 28 this year) with lots of supporting documents. You will hear sometime in Oct. whether you receive a placement or not. You do this the year you are attending school, which means that your child will be attending classes at your zoned school while you wait for word about the PER.


    So it looks like this is bad news if you have been given a seat already in a Pre-K for next year because you go right back into the lottery. This is obviously an attempt to make the whole process fairer to the population at large because not all schools have Pre-Ks and if you were out of the zone for a prized Pre-K you had no chance of getting in. There have never been enough seats for everyone who wants one, but keep in mind that the DOE doesn’t have to provide Pre-K at all, and they are the first programs to be cut to make more room for the mandated grades. As the schools get more and more crowded (look no further than the giant sprouts going up all down 4th Ave.) I wonder how long the existing Pre-K classes will last. I don’t see many new elementary schools in the works.



The DOE is giving a cellphone "incentive"

What gives! The DOE which has been fighting parent's reasonable need to contact their middle school age kids on cell phones is now giving away phones, minutes and texting time as a bribe for increased test scores! The Million Program, announced last week will also have product "discounts" offered in text messages according to a report in nycpublicschoolparents. Yeah, yeah, you have to fund the program somehow, but why this program in the first place. The idea is that in some schools, students need an incentive to improve their performance. Ok, I am naive and too idealistic (my children roll their eyes at me everyday) but knowledge is the reward, not a cheap piece of plastic that will suck their attention away from the true prize. And do you think that those 11 year olds are not informed or cynical enough to see this as the disingenuous bribe that it is. What are we telling them? Stand behind your policy until someone offers you a million dollars to ignore it. Shameful.
The phones are being offered to 4 schools in Brooklyn, JHS 234, Ebbets Field Middle School, IS 349 and KIPP AMP Charter School.
On a basic level in general, doesn't paying for grades act as a disincentive to self motivation and altruism? Just asking.


The 14th St. Armory may be open by the spring

The 14th Street Armory Field House has finally been completed and has a sponsoring organization, which seems to have been the biggest holdup. The Prospect Park YMCA is partnering with the Field House in one of the city's largest community recreation and education centers. At the ribbon cutting, Bill de Blasio said, "by spring school groups and people in the community will be using the space." It has been said that local schools will get priority time in the facility. There are plenty of schools in the neighborhood without gyms that need a space for their phys. ed. programs.



Free Ice Skating

To celebrate the Independence Community Foundation's grant to help underwrite design costs for the new Lakeside Center, the Parks Dept. and Prospect Park Alliance is having a free skating day on March 7 at Wollman Rink. The skating season always gets by me. The fall is too full of the holidays and then in a blink it is too warm and the rink is closing for the season on March16. Get out and skate before the crocuses come up. The Lakeside Center is supposed to have two new ice skating rinks
For info 718 965-8999 or 718965-8960


Fight the school budget cuts

I just got an e-mail from the friends of Bill de Blasio. They are having a meeting to strategize about stopping the DOE school budget cuts. It is a community wide event including groups of teachers, parent advocates, union leaders, members of the CEC, PTAs and others.
Thursday March 13, 7-9pm
St. Francis College, Callahan Center
180 Remsen St. 1st floor (between Court and Clinton)
rsvp to Phil Jones 212 788-6969 or email



I would like to thank everyone who helped me get this blog online. My husband, who finds it hot that I can sign up for a free service and remember the password for 3 days. My brother who keeps e-mailing me great advice in small manageable snippets, and talks me down when I start going mental. Britt Bravo at who totally filled me in on "how to start your basic blog" and the good folks at who make everything so clear even I can understand it.

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