Tuesday, April 1

Middle School Muddle: Some clarity, answers and survival tips from Jimmy Bueschen

There is one way to get answers and explanations about the middle school choice process.

It requires taking a deep breath, agreeing not to try to game the system and ignoring the "I heard this" rumors.

It involves going straight to the source: Jimmy Bueschen, the school choice coordinator whose jurisdiction includes District 2.

For the last 10 years, Bueschen has patiently explained middle school choice to countless elementary school parents. Every year he hears parents cry: "This is too much for 10 year olds!"

He also tries to quell rumors from parents who "heard this" about a change in the process, a new rule or deadline. Most are false. He is quick to tell parents who want to know if putting their second choice first is a better strategy that the answer is no, never.

Bueschen was kind enough to go over all the answers to questions I posed in a recent post, although he reminded me that he’d addressed just about every one of my questions in his excellent and very careful presentation to my child’s elementary school, where he pointed out that 80 percent of kids get into their first or second choice.

Those are pretty comforting odds. So how did I get confused? Perhaps by listening to multiple voices and rumors? Also, many of the schools we visited during tours do things differently, so what holds true for one school doesn’t hold true for the next, so it is easy to get somewhat muddled.

For the record, here are some of Bueschen’s answers to frequently asked questions, including mine.

Q. How seriously do middle schools take the fourth grade state tests?
A. The tests are part of multiple criteria schools used, including lateness and absences. There were cutoff scores at one point. There are no longer cutoff scores.

Q. Do schools really look at report cards, even if there are just checks and no grades?
A. If they ask for them, yes. Lots of report cards don’t contain grades.

Q. Will middle schools really have time to evaluate hordes of first choice candidates?
A. Of course. That’s part of what they do.

Q. If they give a test, how much will it count?
A. There are multiple criteria. Of course, you would think it holds a bit more weight because their screening may be based on the theme of their school. It’s up to the school to decide. Schools have different themes they may want students to demonstrate an interest in, like writing, science or technology.

Q. Will be child be screened at both his first and second choice? We all heard this might happen.
A. They will be screened (which can mean an interview, a test, participation in a project) at their first choice. The second choice school may do screening before they accept students in the second round – which means after they have accepted those who listed them as first choice.

Q. If they don’t hear from their second choice, does that mean they got into their first choice?
A. It’s possible, but it's not over till it's over. A person can get interviewed by first, second and third and STILL get their first choice. Our goal is for everyone to have their first choice. You could hear from the second choice school and still get into your first choice.

Q. Should we have prepared portfolios or letters of recommendation about our children?
A. Only if asked by the school. They likely won’t have time to read them.

Q. When will we find out?
A. Early May.

Finally, Bueschen has a reminder for parents who complain that the process is too much: The alternative is to pack everyone off to zoned schools – something no one wants. The best way to reach Bueschen is via email: jbuesch@schools.nyc.gov. He gets hundreds of calls at 212-356-3788 and does his best to answer.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

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