by Liz Willen
After two middle school searches in three years, I wish I could pretend to be the seasoned pro, generous with wisdom, advice and pitfalls to avoid. But even though we did our homework carefully, visited lots of schools in District 2, and listened to the words of teachers, guidance counselors and district officials, we discovered that the middle school admissions process did not work well this year. Confusion and misinformation triumphed.
Part of it is a supply and demand problem, of course. There simply aren't enough good public middle schools in New York City, and as more parents choose to raise their children here and want to support public education, something has to change -- quickly. Demand for the best public elementary schools is on the rise, leading inevitably to crowding and more competition. So clearly, there is a need to improve the city's middle schools.
For the record, my complaints are not directed at the personal situation my family finds ourselves in. My now seventh-grader two years ago chose the Clinton School for Artists and Writers, where the language arts program has been absolutely outstanding. The teachers, principal and parent coordinators are warm, welcoming and approachable. Truth is, there should be more schools like Clinton everywhere. And more like Lab, Salk, MAT and East Side Middle School, to name a few of the terrific schools we've toured, some of them twice.
Two years ago, our middle-school search went well. We gave lots of schools careful consideration before ranking Clinton first of five choices. By April, it was over.
My current fifth-grader's class didn't fare as well. Graduation is Friday and several of his classmates are shut out of all of their choices, as are children all over the city.
The appeals process is underway. No one knows how it will go. This year decisions did not come in until mid-June. Many kids got the wrong letters. Some didn't get letters at all, leaving it to the patient elementary school guidance counselors, parent coordinators and principals to help sort things out.
How were decisions made? No one can say for sure, but we do know that the Department of Education decided to centralize the process -- meaning, take it out of the hands of the schools and districts, even though it was working well.
Did principals even look at applications this year? Was it just a numbers game, test scores and the like? I'm thinking about the carefully crafted hand-written notes my son and some of his friends wrote to their first-choice schools, describing why they wanted to be there. And those art and writing projects they attached?
Julie Shapiro wrote a good piece in the Downtown Express, describing the frustration and shock many families whose children are shut out of schools now feel. If I had a child entering fifth-grade next year, I'd be very concerned. Will the process be changed? If so, how? What should parents know? Whatever is decided, it's critical that schools, district officials, principals, parent coordinators and guidance counselors give out THE SAME INFORMATION, which was not at all the case this year.
My younger son, as it turns out, is also going to Clinton and I feel lucky. But I'm sick about all the great kids left hanging, and the unfortunate impression of contempt the Department of Education is showing to children and families who truly want to be here and support city schools.