Teachers in East Harlem Must Get Permission to Call Parents

A common complaint from public school parents is poor communication and feedback from their child’s teacher. This is especially a pervasive problem in low-income neighborhood schools. In East Harlem’s PS 146, this is not only a problem, it’s a policy for teachers not to contact parents without permission from their supervisors.

According to a  recent article in the New York Post, PS 146 teachers are prohibited from communicating with paretns/guardians unless they receive an approval from their direct supervisor. According to the school principal, Dr. Mona Silfen, the policy has been in place since before her arrival.

The Department of Education has publicly criticized the policy and is working in removing it. The news comes amid new school chancelor Cathie Black pushing for parent involvement in schools.

One has to wonder what other “policies” are in place that hinder parent involvement in our schools.


New Charter School in East Harlem Accepting Applications

The East Harlem Tutorial Program, a great organization that has had a lot of success in helping students succeed, will be opening the East Harlem Scholars Academy next fall. It’s now accepting applications for first grade and kindergarten until April 1st.  Interested parents should attend an open house session next Wednesday, March 30th at 6:30 p.m. at 2053 Second Avenue, near 105th Street.

The new school promises to have great teachers, a low student to teacher ratio, and daily art, gym and Spanish classes. In addition there will one-to-one small group tutoring every day. Preference for admission will be given to East Harlem residents.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, good schools located uptown are hard to find, which makes East Harlem Academy opening next year a blessing.

Mother Sues Preschool For Failing to Prepare Kid for Ivy League

So I initially reacted to this news story as “you gotta be effin’ kidding me.” But now that I’m more familiar with it, I’m thinking the mother does have a right to sue.

Nicole Imprescia, a mother of a four-year-old, is suing York Avenue Preschool in the Upper East Side for failing to prepare her daughter for the Education Records Bureau (ERB) Exam, which is required by many elite private schools in Manhattan. After only three weeks at the school, Imprescia pulled her daughter out and demanded a refund of the $19,000 tuition she paid. The school refused to refund her money stating there is a nonrefundable tuition policy that the school adheres to.

The suit alleges that the school perpetuated a “complete fraud” by not preparing students for the ERB and it proved not be a “school at all, but just one big playroom.” It  goes on to say that four-year-olds were sometimes mixed with two and three-year-olds and were just learning shapes and colors (which is usually taught to toddlers at age two in most Manhattan daycares).

The suit also alleges that York Avenue Preschool ruined the daughter’s chances of getting into Ivy League School like Harvard and cites an article that identifies preschools as the first step of getting into Ivy League. Imprescia is seeking “exemplary damages, costs and attorney’s fees” but the suit does not specify an amount.

Now, in my opinion Imprescia deserves her refund. Her daughter was in the school for only three weeks of the school year and if a parent is not happy, they shouldn’t have to pay for a year’s worth of tuition to a school that a student will not attend. But in the other hand, a preschool is NOT going to determine a child’s chances of attending Harvard. C’mon, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Those preschools that advertise Ivy League acceptance rates forget to mention that their students’ parents are usally wealthy, highly-educated, and, most often, Ivy League graduates themselves. Yes, a good school curriculum can make a difference, but it really does come down to parent involvement, good child rearing, a sound and culturally enriched home, and parent connections (ahem, have you ever heard of school legacies? how else could George W. get into Yale?).

I’m human, and as an NYC parent going through Pre-K admissions right now, this is something I have to constantly reming myslef of: Yes, it’s important that we push forth on school reform, good curriculum and better teachers, but it’s not necessary to get caught up in this elite rat-race that NYC parents have created for children as young as two.

Parents, I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts. Is Imprescia right in suing? Are we NYC parents nuts?

Great Non-Profit in East Harlem: Hot Bread Kitchen

There are a lot of great organizations out there that create economic independence for families in need by providing them with job skills and education. The Hot Bread Kitchen, located in East Harlem’s La Marqueta, is one of those oranizations. They pay immigrant women to learn the skills they need to launch their own food buisness and attain management positions in the food manufacturing business. You can support them by volunteering or buying their fresh-baked bread throughout the city, including the Farmer’s Market at Union Square. Check out their website to find more info and the sales/ events calendar.

Manhattan Universal Pre-K Info Session Tomorrow

This week is a busy one. Not only does this week kick off Lent for millions of Catholics around the world, it also kicks off the Universal Pre-K admission process for thousands of NYC families.

Monday was the first day for accepting applications and the process will last until April 8, the deadline to submit the application.

Given that pre-school tuition can cost up to $24,000 a year in Manhattan, a lot of parents, including myself, will be applying for slots.  Tomorrow, there will be a Manhattan Information Session at Louis D. Brandeis High School for city parents, which I hope will shed some insight and guidance on what to do, how to better my daughter’s chances of getting selected, etc.. Getting accepted to an NYC public Pre-K program isn’t a simple school registration process. It’s a competitive and dizzying ordeal to go through.

Case in point: Central Park East, a great school in East Harlem, had 157 applicants last year for the 18 slots it had opened. P.S. 158 in the Upper East Side had 341 applicants for 36 slots.

As if the odds weren’t challenging enough, preference is given to kids with an older sibling in the school. So parents like me who only have a single child have a slim to none chance of getting in.The second preference is applying to your zone. In my case, East Harlem, where slim pickings of good schools make it even more challenging for your child to receive a good education.

It’s a lot more depressing than it sounds.

Nevertheless, I’m taking the chance and hoping for a miracle that my daughter will be selected to go to a good school. For those of you parents who are fellow dreamers, click here to find out more.

Best of luck to everyone.

Teacher Layoffs Hit Harlem HARD

I recently posted about how crime and gang activity seem to be rising in East Harlem. And as if kids don’t have it hard enough in this neighborhood, their schools will be hard-hit by one of the worse teacher layoffs in New York City’s recent history.

It’s been known for a while that teacher layoffs were imminent across New York City. But until yesterday, the public didn’t really know the concrete numbers and the schools that will be affected if New York State doesn’t provide the needed funds. It turns out that Harlem will be one of the worse affected by this.

Wow. As if crime, diabetes, asthma and rising HIV rates wasn’t enough for us to worry about.

Harlem’s Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering will lose 70 percent of its staff — i.e., 14 of 20 teachers. Another school that will be greatly affected will East Harlem’s Preparatory Academy, which is scheduled to lose 42 percent of its staff (11 out of 26 teachers).

Overall, the figures show that poorer neighborhoods will receive the brunt of the layoffs due the fact that those schools tend to have the newer teachers (Surprise?! No one but the young is rushing to teach in poor public schools).

As a mother of a three -year-old who has now started looking at my school options, this is news is very disheartening. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for six years and I love it. But I also want a good education for my daughter, and sadly, this neighborhood doesn’t offer it. I’m lucky in the fact that I have the financial means to get up and move. But..

A. I shouldn’t have to move! A good education should be provided to every NYC kid no matter what neighborhood he lives in.

B. As a gentrifier, shouldn’t I, along with other gentrifier, fight for this right. There’s been several neighborhoods (the Bowery, Lower East Side, Williamsburg) that have moved up in the economic scale and with that, have brought along better amenities, better public services and better schools.

Of course, the dilemma would be my child being part of the first round of guinea pigs to go into this sea change …. if and when it happens.

Is Crime in East Harlem Rising?

In the last six months, I have been very tempted to buy pepper spray or mace. As someone who has lived in NYC for 10 years, six of which have been in East Harlem, this has been the first time I’ve really felt threatened walking around my neighborhood.

Neighbors of mine have been mugged and buglarized in the past year. And a recent article in Gothamist makes me think that these are not isolated events.

According to the article, the 23rd precinct in East Harlem is seeing a lot more gang member activity. Not only that, but East Harlem was ranked first in drug-related deaths of any NYC community in 2009, with 22.9 deaths per 100,00 compared to 8.3 citywide.

The police department’s crime statistics don’t show a significant increase, but one has to wonder whether crime is being accurately captured by the department.