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New York

Despite state law, Bronx charter school tests students for entry

The Academic Leadership Charter School, founded in 2009, is housed inside Mother Hale Academy, a district school in the South Bronx. A South Bronx charter school is screening children for admission based on their performance on academic tests, according to parents and several current and former employees of Academic Leadership Charter School. As a charter school, Academic Leadership is required by New York state law to admit students through a random lottery. But multiple parents and staff members described a process designed by the school's director to weed out low-performing students. Four parents who tried to enroll their children at Academic Leadership, an elementary school, this year or last year said that school employees tested their children before deciding whether or not to accept them. "They took my son to a class to watch him in the class and see if everything was okay. He was in the class an hour," said Khalilur Munshi, describing his experience with the school this winter. Dissatisfied with his neighborhood school, Munshi had taken his son, a second-grader, to Academic Leadership to try to enroll him in the middle of the school year. An employee told him that the second grade had open slots and no waiting list, and then his son was taken to sit in on the class, Munshi said. When his son returned, a staff member told Munshi that there actually was a waiting list and that school officials would let him know if a spot opened up. "I could tell they weren't going to take my son," he said. After the visit, he called the school three times to check on the status of the waiting list and never heard back. Several former and current school employees said that the school's director and founder, Norma Figueroa-Hurwitz, a long-time New York City educator, orders teachers to test applicants in order to admit the most advanced students. The employees all asked to remain anonymous out of concern that speaking on the record would jeopardize their careers in education. Reached by phone, Figueroa-Hurwitz denied that students were tested before they were admitted and declined to answer further questions. The same day, her husband and the school's co-founder, Ted Hurwitz, called GothamSchools to respond on Figueroa-Hurwitz's behalf. He said that the school tests students only after they have been admitted through the lottery for the purpose of "placement." Asked why parents would say otherwise, he said, "I don’t know why. I don’t understand that. We do anything and everything we can. We might do that to get a head start, but I can’t understand that personally." Hurwitz said that he now spends one day a week at the school.
New York

DOE to unveil a "common application" for charter schools

Charter schools could soon have one single "common application," under a deal hatched today by the three bodies that oversee the state's charter schools, a Department of Education official confirmed. Right now, families apply by filling out separate forms for each charter school that enter their children into separate lotteries. Under the new process, the city will create one common application, accepted by all schools, but keep lotteries separate. The change will answer critics' charge that the current process, with its overwhelming paperwork, is so complicated that it discourages all but the most motivated parents and effectively screens out needy students. The introduction of a common application does not address a second demand from critics, including the teachers union — that the lotteries also be streamlined. Michael Duffy, the head of the city's charter schools, said the city's goal was "to widen the access for families" to charter schools. Duffy previously spearheaded a push to increase recruitment by charter schools, and said that the new common application should help charters reach out to groups of students, including those learning English, that charter recruiters often miss. Duffy told me about the plans today by phone, just after a meeting with representatives from the State University of New York and Board of Regents charter authorizers, who Duffy said agreed to join the city in using the new application. Their decision comes just after a group for charter school parents announced its own effort to streamline the admission process.
New York

To kindergarten shutouts, top schools official says, "I'm sorry"

Anyone who stayed until the bitter end of a three-hour meeting last night about kindergarten waitlists in Manhattan got a surprise: an uncharacteristic apology from a top DOE official. Hundreds of parents turned out for a meeting of the parent council for District 2 to vent about having been shut out, at least for now, of their neighborhood schools. Last week, Manhattan parents protested at City Hall after 273 children were put on waiting lists at many elementary schools. Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm arrived late to the meeting after spending her afternoon dealing with the swine flu outbreak in Queens. She sat quietly in the audience and listened to a tense back and forth between school officials and angry parents. The auditorium had mostly emptied and council members were preparing to adjourn when Grimm approached the microphone to make a surprise statement, which I captured on video above. Here's a key part of what she said: I also want to say something that I thought I heard people from the DOE say tonight, but just in case you didn't, I want to say, I'm sorry. We're sorry. We have stumbled on some of this planning. The two officials leading the meeting told parents during the meeting that most schools should be able to eliminate their wait lists by the middle of June, after families find out where they've been offered seats in gifted and talented programs. John White, who heads the Department of Education's efforts to manage school space, said that more children in each area qualified for gifted admissions than there are children on the waiting list.
New York

A protest as hundreds of kindergarten hopefuls sit on waiting lists

Parents and elected officials gathered at City Hall today to protest crowding in Manhattan that has led to long waiting lists for public school kindergartens. (GothamSchools ## A crowd of shell-shocked parents gathered outside City Hall this afternoon, angry that the Department of Education hasn’t found seats for the hundreds of rising kindergarten students who have been placed on waiting lists for next year at their local public schools. The waiting lists, which include 273 names in just two Manhattan districts, mean that families in baby- and building-boom areas like the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, and Greenwich Village could find themselves unable to secure a spot at their neighborhood school's kindergarten. The lists attracted extra attention yesterday after news leaked that the city was considering closing or relocating prekindergarten classes at two Greenwich Village elementary schools, PS 3 and PS 41, in order to make room for kindergartners. Parents at the rally said they felt confused and powerless. "As far as I can tell, I don't have a Plan B — other than home school or moving to Jersey," said Jay Douglas, whose 4-year-old son is number 42 on a waiting list for PS 187 in Washington Heights. Elected officials joined the parents at City Hall today to criticize city officials for not planning ahead to meet the demand for spots in public schools. Scott Stringer, Manhattan's borough president, said the DOE is "closing its eyes" to a widespread capacity problem, warning that taxpaying parents will pack up and move, taking their kids and tax dollars somewhere else if they can't enroll in their local public school.