the starting line

With school year approaching, enrollment centers work to meet families’ needs

Michael Hancock / File photo

For Aubrey Turner, Thursday marked a third visit to Manhattan’s temporary school registration center.

Turner, who recently moved from Poughkeepsie with his family, said he kept returning with different paperwork while he attempted to enroll his daughter in New York City’s school system.

“They need to get a better process,” Turner said. “It’s too hot for this.”

But several trips to the registration center did not dampen his daughter’s spirit, who broke out into a huge grin when school was mentioned. As she walked away, after finally securing a seat at P.S. 123 in Harlem, her father put his arm around her shoulders.

Turner’s daughter is one of the thousands of students annually who tries to find a school after the regular enrollment cycle. This week, and continuing through the start of the school year, students and their parents will file into the temporary registration centers scattered throughout the city looking for a seat.

Some, like Turner’s daughter, recently moved, while others are trying to transfer between schools or need to provide further paperwork. In each case, city officials must compile family documents and consider city rules, home addresses, special needs, and open seats in a complicated calculus designed to make sure the year starts smoothly.

Chase Studwick, who just moved from Miami, said he will miss some of his friends.
Chase Studwick, who just moved from Miami, said he will miss some of his friends.

New to New York

The Manhattan center was filled with those moving to New York from other countries and states, including Africa, Brazil, Idaho, and Florida.

Leticia Herren, a 17-year-old from Brazil, said that she was excited to begin school in New York. Herren moved with her parents, who are completing their postdoctoral research in New York. Herren said she planned to visit schools throughout the day Thursday.

“It’s a city where everybody wants to come and now I’m here,” Herren said.

Armando Garcia moved his daughter, a rising sixth grader with multiple disabilities, with hopes that the city can provide her with services that were not available in Idaho.

But not everyone is moving to New York without reservations. After Chase Strudwick registered for sixth grade at Renaissance Leadership Academy in West Harlem, he paused from running around the sidewalk and jumping onto the walls to reflect on his move from Miami.

“I’m going to miss some of my friends,” Strudwick said.

Syeda Begum and her son are frustrated that they cannot transfer schools after she said he was bullied last year.
Syeda Begum and her son are frustrated that they cannot transfer schools after she said he was bullied last year.

Paperwork woes

After running around the city Wednesday trying to register his son, Troy Holston returned Thursday to Manhattan’s temporary center only to hear that his son needed to be present to register. Holston said he was at the Manhattan center yesterday, but he arrived a few minutes after it closed at 3 p.m. after rushing to different location.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Holston, whose son will be out of the city through the weekend. “I just want to make sure my son has a spot.”

As she walked from a temporary school registration center on Thursday morning, Syeda Begum sighed heavily and said, “I failed.”

She tried to transfer her son, a rising seventh grade student, from Technology, Arts, and Sciences Studio School in Manhattan, because he had been bullied — including being stabbed in the chest with a pencil and chased around by a taller boy, she said — but her efforts to move him were not successful.

“I’m fed up,” said Begum, staring at a crinkled, handwritten, list of choice schools. “Now I worry. I’m scared.”

Jesiriam Rosario, who is trying to transfer to a school in Chelsea, said the experience was quick and easy.
Jesiriam Rosario, who is trying to transfer to a school in Chelsea, said the experience was quick and easy.

Quick and easy

Not everyone found the process cumbersome. Jesiriam Rosario, a 16-year-old who is trying to get into Satellite Academy High School, a transfer school in Chelsea, did not mind her morning at the registration center.

“It was good, easy, quick,” she said. Rosario is still unsure whether she will get into the school. If she does not get a spot at Satellite, she said she will attend Heritage School in East Harlem.

Rosario said she is “still hoping.”

A new beginning

A number of parents waited to register their children for kindergarten.

Sending a child to their first year of school provokes a range of emotions, said Dorian Acosta, who wanted his son to attend P.S. 140 on the Lower East Side because it is close to where he lives. His older children attended and liked the school too, he said.

“You worry about your kids, ya know?” Acosta said, but added, “You’re happy for them.”

Dorian Acosta is preparing to send his son off to kindergarten.
Dorian Acosta is preparing to send his son off to kindergarten.

Closer to home

Michelle Legros went to the center with her 15-year-old son, trying to switch his school to one on 84th Street, which is closer to where they live in Manhattan. Legros said she will meet with the school’s principal tomorrow to figure out if he can attend.

“When I received the letter I said, ‘Are they kidding me? Brooklyn?’” Legros said. “If he goes to Brooklyn I won’t know what’s going on.”

Better future

Sheron Redden arrived early at the registration center, determined to transfer her daughter from the Gramercy Arts High School to Pace High School, another small school. The guidance at Gramercy, Redden said, isn’t enough for her daughter, who is entering her senior year and wants to attend dental school.

“The kids that want to get out and want a life, it’s like they try to hold them,” Redden said.

Looking at her daughter, she vowed her case would be different.

“She worked too hard to get where she’s at,” Redden said.

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee, its charter schools, and the state’s second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”