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THE 2013-2014



What Nursery School Directors Really Think THE PARENT TRAP How To Support Your Child In Grade School




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THE 2013-2014




2 | Rethinking Independent School Admissions What a group of prominent school directors really want parents to know about applying to nursery and private schools 8 | iSmarts Experts weigh in on the best ways to raise a savvy kid in the digital age 12 | “The Parent Backpack”: Required Reading For Educating Children Education expert ML Nichols on involvement, parent-teacher tension, and her new book pg.18

14 | Getting In, Staying Sane Two top NYC students, one a college freshman and the other a high school senior, compare notes on their college admissions journey 18 | And Away They Go… Ten things parents should know about boarding school 21 | Education News, Notes, And Resources The scoop on local education news, happenings, and trends—from G&T tips to the latest on the ERB 23 | The 2013-2014 Blackboard Awards For Schools And Principals Honoring educational excellence in local public, private, charter, and parochial schools 36 | The Passionate Learner Educator Jenifer Fox guides parents and teachers in helping students harness the power of their natural strengths



CONTACT US EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Eric Messinger, PUBLISHER: John Hurley,, 212-268-3086 SENIOR EDITORS: Lorraine Duffy Merkl, Sarah Torretta Klock, Mia Weber, and Christine Wei. For more education trends and stories, visit and sign up for our free weekly e-newsletters. Manhattan Media, LLC, 72 Madison Avenue, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10016, 212-268-8600

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What A Group Of Prominent School Directors Really Want Parents To Know About Applying To Nursery And Private School By Eric Messinger An unexpected detour happened at the start of our roundtable on nursery and private school admissions in the city. I came with the intention of moderating a panel on nuts-and-bolts matters like application timelines and school interviews. But the panel of school directors and admissions consultants had a much better idea. They wanted to talk about educational value, because they know that there are many parents out there who are beginning to question whether it’s all worth it—whether the costs and uncertainties of raising children in the city are beginning to outweigh the delights

and conveniences. Whether it’s accurate or not, for years the specter of there being too few openings at city nursery schools and private schools has been the source of much anxiety among interested parents. And, more recently, that anxiety has been compounded by tuition prices. There are popular nursery schools that now charge $25,000 or more per year, and private school tuition at many schools is circling near $40,000. Is your pulse racing yet? The panel had a lot to say about all of this—and I also got a few insider tips out of them as well.


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MEET THE PANELISTS Moderator: Eric Messinger, New York Family Terri Decker, Smart City Kids ( Wendy Levey, Epiphany Community Nursery School ( Gabriella Rowe, The Mandell School ( Nancy Schulman, Avenues ( Sharon Shorofsky Mack, JCP Downtown (

Wendy Levey: But I feel like they’ve been hearing it from other parents who are starting out rather than the schools themselves.

Eric Messinger: I know that stories about school admissions can seem old hat, but parents really value them.

Rowe: So the question is how we get them to hear that rather than all the crazy stories about the process.

Gabriella Rowe: Yes, but I feel like we spend so much time talking about the process and how difficult it is that more and more young parents are deciding to bow out—to move elsewhere—just as they’re getting started.

Sharon Shorofsky Mack: They keep hearing about the process instead of the results. My sense is that 99 percent of people, when asked a year later, end up being very happy with their schools, even in those cases where they didn’t end up with their first choice.

Levey: I feel like it’s our job to paint the picture—to let parents know that there’s your kind of school, and my kind of school, and many other kinds of schools and options—and you really need to be thinking about the kind of school you want for your family. continued on page 4

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support them and advocate for them now and in the years ahead. It’s exceptional. Shorofsky Mack: It’s the most significant time in the education process, essentially, when the whole family is together with the school in a partnership on behalf of the child.  Schulman: Later on, it’s different because it’s supposed to be different. Everyone has to take a step back to create an age-appropriate environment. But that’s what’s so precious about nursery school: Everyone’s involved, everyone’s sharing what they know. 

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Shorofsky Mack: I think many people begin the process thinking they’re going to trust their own instincts, and then the process pulls that away. But if they stick to their gut—and not let others’ experiences influence them—then they’ll be fine. Messinger: What do you see as the most special aspects of the nursery school experience? Levey: For me, it’s the most significant time in a young family’s life. It’s the “it takes a village” time… when everybody supports each other in the most unbelievable way because people often don’t have extended families that are around, so they need their new family, which turns out, in many cases, to be their preschool friends.  

Terri Decker: It’s very much a family experience. One of the most common questions we get asked is: “How do I know what kind of school is right for my child’s learning style?” And I’m like, “Look, your kid is 15 months old. It’s hard to say what your child’s learning style is.” So instead of focusing on that, we help parents choose schools that they’re going to be comfortable with, because they’re going to be part of that community too. Parents are going to have preferences. Before we come up with a suggested list of schools, we talk with parents about their own educational experiences—good and bad, what they remember working for them and what didn’t work for them— because, chances are, that’s what’s most influencing their thinking now.  Levey: And that’s all on the front end. Later on, because we end up knowing the child so well, we can advise parents really well on the next steps to kindergarten and beyond, making sure they’re aware of all the schools that are well-suited to their child’s learning style (not just the three schools they already knew about).  Rowe: That’s all wonderful and true, but I’m also worried about how, to some degree, the pressure doesn’t seem to go away once they’re in nursery school. I worry about parents not enjoying these years as much as they should because they feel so much pressure about applying for kindergarten. 

Nancy Schulman: I agree that the sense of community and the friends that are made is the most important thing—and they’re often long-lasting. The other piece of this, especially for 3-year-olds, is that this is the first time you’ll learn how to be part of a community, to be in school, to understand how you’re one of many. That’s not done as much in K anymore, so this becomes where you learn how to focus and take turns and be part of a learning community. 

Shorofsky Mack: It’s all about how they chose to go through the experience. Parents have a lot of control in these years. They have a lot of input into what it’s going to be like for themselves and for their child.

Shorofsky Mack: I would add to that the cultivation of skills such as perseverance and the ability to problem solve as well as the development of many interests. These are all building blocks for life. 

Levey: When I start my ex-missions with my parents in the summer before the 4s year, the first thing I say to them is: “What public school are you zoned for? Go look at that school, know that school.” And then there are all the G&Ts [i.e., gifted and talented public school programs]. 

Rowe: To me, it’s the first time that parents are given the tools to understand their child as a learner. Parents get to see their kids in so many different environments—birthday parties, play dates, their grandparents’ home—but the one place where they really get to see them as learners is in preschool, with teachers with training in early education, who can help parents better understand their children as learners and thus be better able to

Messinger: In talking about relieving the pressure of applying to private school, shouldn’t we discuss that there are lots of good public schools around?

Rowe: Many of the families in my school have two or three children—so if you have more than one child and they’re all going to nursery school and you’re interested in possibly sending them all to private school, and you don’t make, like, half a million dollars a year, it’s really hard… With everything that’s transpired in the city in the last few years, you need


to be flexible about looking at all of the options… Based on what I heard at a number of recent ISAAGNY [Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York] meetings, there are a number of smaller K-8 and K-12 independent schools that are taking real hits beginning in 3rd and 4th grade— I would go so far as to say that the schools are hemorrhaging students, who are moving out of the city. Which brings me back to my concern around admissions and how we, as an educational community, can better transmit those messages about the true value of the experience and the education. Messinger: It’s getting expensive. Any chance institutions could keep the focus on education but make do with lesser facilities and lower prices? Rowe: With ongoing schools [K and up], this is a conversation going on all over the country—namely whether private schools are going to price themselves out of a client base.  Levey: But what about medical insurance [for employees] and other costs that are out of the school’s control?  Rowe: I think that’s not necessarily the case in the K-12 market. In the preschool market, where the teacher-child ratios are what they are because of New York State laws that makes facilities and teachers expensive. That said, I think that the preschool market in New York is kind of a bargain; you really do get a good value. [But] it’s a little harder to justify than in the K-12 market when, in some ways, the things that we’re forced to put our money into are not things that go to the real core of educational value.  Levey: But it goes to paying teachers, too.   Schulman: I’d say 85 percent of the costs of tuition are going to salaries and benefits. Messinger: For applying to nursery school and ongoing school, if I’m a parent with an infant and I want a reliable source of information and guidance about the process, where should I start? Shorofsky Mack: The Parents League is a great place to start. More generally, whatever the source, parents should keep in mind whether it’s coming from the school itself or written by others about the school. One isn’t necessarily better than the other— they could be complementary—but you should just keep it in mind. And the best time to start looking into it is the year before they’re going to be applying—assuming that they’re going to be applying in September for the following September. Messinger: In broad strokes, what are the different educational philosophies out there? Is the dividing line between play-based and academics? Shorofsky Mack: The best way to get that information is to ask specific questions about how things are handled, rather than sticking to labels.  Levey: The truth is that in preschool all children play. I don’t care what anybody says. There isn’t a preschool in which children don’t play. Or at least continued on page 7

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not many. The question is the balance—some are more academic or skill-based than others. That’s really what the balance is. Messinger: What are the most important things a parent should look for on a school tour? Schulman: The most important thing is to look at the engagement of the children. Are they actively learning? Is there a nice tone in the classroom? Is just the teacher talking? If the children are talking, where is the teacher in this? Where do they put themselves? What does the work look like that’s on the classroom walls? I think that looking to the children and teacher first will tell you the most important info you can have. Also, check out the facility: Is it safe? Is it clean? The basics are important; people have visceral reactions to different kind of spaces, and you weigh and balance it all against each other. Messinger: Some schools have playgroup sessions and others have more formal interviews. Do parents do a lot fretting about the playgroup sessions? What should they know? Shorofsky Mack: They should remember that we’re experienced educators and we know that what we see in the 20 minutes that we’re with them is not the full context of the child. That time is not meant to be a thorough understanding of the child, just a window for us to understand a little bit about the child for when we do class placement. They should simply follow the lead of the teachers, rather than try to prompt their kids to do something to impress us.

Messinger: And as far as the parent interviews go? Rowe: It goes back to what we were saying before. Parents should think about what really matters to them. It’s an important time for them to ask the most important questions. Also, remember that it is an interview, so think about the manner in which you ask those questions. I think that that many parents think that what they need to do in this circumstance is to show off how powerful or impressive they are—when in truth what we really want to know is whether they love, care, and understand their child. Messinger: Many parents assume connections matter in the admissions process. What do you say about that? Decker: Here’s how it helps: It helps if you know someone who is known and liked at the school and who could truly speak to how you and your family would fit in there because they know you really well. When I was doing admissions, I once received a letter of recommendation from the Dalai Lama. It was a lovely letter, but it was meaningless. The better letter that really swayed us was from a kid who used to babysit the child applying.

Rowe: In some ways, it’s the opposite of what we said about early childhood and not thinking too much about who a 1-year-old is and their learning style. Now, if you’re looking at K-8 or K-12, you should definitely be thinking about that. It’s much less about the family’s relationship with the school—though that’s not immaterial. But what matters most is the learning environment and how the child would fit in. Shorofsky Mack: I like to suggest to them to get on the table their feelings on their own elementary school education, because it will definitely effect how they look at the choices for their child. Levey: One of the things I ask parents to do over the summer—regardless of whether the schools they’re applying to require it—is for each parent to write an essay on who their child is, because it challenges them to really think about it. Everyone thinks it’s going to be easy, but it sure isn’t. Messinger: And finally, if a family does their research, follows their instincts, and applies to a decent number of varying schools, are they likely to find a spot at a nursery school or private school?

Messinger: What should parents expect and be thinking about for ongoing schools? Schulman: There’s a lot more info that schools are requiring of the family about the child: interviews, test scores, school reports, etc. When you’re apply-


ing to nursery school, you have the kid and the parent, and the kid is very young. With ongoing school, it’s ultimately a much more complex decision because you know a lot more about your child’s needs.

Decker: Yes, absolutely. There is a spot for everyone with reasonable expectations.

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How To Raise A Savvy Digital Kid By Amy Reynolds


n today’s wired world, being knowledgeable of—and comfortable with—digital technology is just as vital to academic and professional success as being able to read, write, and do arithmetic. In fact, both educators and tech experts now refer to technological know-how as a “new type of literacy.” And it’s not hard to understand why, considering large portions of children’s everyday lives have gone digital, be it at school with a SmartBoard or laptop or during leisure time with a tablet (and other devices) for entertainment. “[Kids] are learning the tools that everyone’s using in today’s market,” says David Baszucki, CEO and founder of ROBLOX, a usergenerated gaming website popular among school-age children. “In the old days, you needed to know cursive writing and how to add long numbers. Today you need to know Twitter, Instagram, and tablet computing.” As technology is woven into their education and social life, it’s extremely prudent—and many would

argue absolutely essential—that children be raised with at least the basic skills needed to use personal computers, smartphones, and, of course, the internet in general. The challenge for parents is in helping cultivate a passion for digital learning while also making their children mindful of the risk factors at play and helping them to self-monitor their digital consumption habits.

GETTING EDUCATED Just like with reading and math, there are certain technological skills that most children should master by certain ages, though of course it varies from child to child. The first milestone: Around age 5, children should know the basics of using a computer—how to turn it on and off, how to use a mouse, and how to type on a standard keyboard, says Mike Fischthal, CEO of The Pixel Academy, a Brooklyn-based digital learning center for kids that teaches videogame design, computer programming, app development, and more. But once


children start to venture online, parents need to be clear about privacy and cyber safety. “At age 5, 6, or 7, what it means to be ‘savvy’ is [knowing] how to be safe,” says Rebecca Levey, cofounder of KidzVuz, a website where kids can make and share videos with their peers. “[Children] need to know not to give out their real name and not to share passwords with their friends.” In many schools, students begin to do online research for class by grades 4 or 5, so it’s important that they be comfortable using the internet by that point, Levey adds. By age 10 or so, children should have regular internet access at home, though it’s a good idea for parents to communicate with teachers about reliable research sites. The middle school years are typically a time for kids to become more and more literate with typing, online research, and even some website creation of their own. Beyond social and safety concerns, parents don’t need to limit what their child can do technologically.

While coding may remain a mystery to many parents, it’s not out of the realm of possible skills for an 11-yearold to acquire. “If they start around age 7 or 8, they [could] create web pages, create apps, and have an idea in their brain of how the coding world works,” Fischthal says. By the time high school rolls around, most kids should be comfortable handling almost all types of basic technology, whether it be a tablet, video game console, or the ins and outs of the internet, says Warren Buckleitner, editor and founder of the Children’s Technology Review. While there’s no “right” age for kids to own personal gadgets, experts agree that ownership, modified by parental rules and oversight, facilitates learning and control. “To have their own computer opens up a lot of doors that a many parents aren’t comfortable with, but having something that’s theirs, something that they can mess around with and continued on page 11

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install things on, and even break, is the best way to learn,” Fischthal points out. “If you keep them away from the internet, then you’re only going to encourage them to sneak on it by themselves—and odds are they’ll find their way to something you don’t like.” While it’s quite common for parents to allow toddlers to play with age-appropriate apps on smartphones and tablets, then a few years later permit them to have hand-held gaming consoles like the Nintendo DS, for many families a big crossroads in digital ownership is when to buy your child a cell phone. In NYC, that often happens around age 10, according to Levey, when students begin walking home from school without adult supervision. Many families will have shared computers around this age, but by the time your children are in the thick of middle school, Buckleitner says, they’re going to want their own laptop. By high school, he continues,

students have the cognitive skills to more fully understand what kinds of material are inappropriate to post on the web—though, of course, that doesn’t mean they’re always going to use good judgment.

STAYING SAFE For all the ways that technology helps our children, there’s no denying that it presents risks, too. “The internet contains great things and horrible things and everything in between—and these things can have life-long consequences,” Fischthal notes. Plus, it can be hard to take a measured view of issues like cyber-bullying and child predators, because, as Levey points out, all the media attention on these issues makes those threats seem more prevalent than they are. At the same time, the threats do exist—and they’re often exacerbated by the power of social media. “Social media rapidly amplifies the impact, and consequences of, bad or immature behavior,” Levey says. “A photo, email, or video can be shared at the click of a button, making it easier than ever for a kid to be embarrassed on a large scale.” Buckleitner can reference many tragic stories about how a friendly prank or a photo from a sleepover can go viral and cause a child to have to change schools—or even prevent someone from getting a job 10 years into the future. “No matter how young [children] are, and no matter how far away job prospects may seem, parents should still sit down and have these conversations with children,” he says. The fact that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube have minimum age restrictions probably spares many young kids a lot of embarrassment, but scores of underage users lie about their age (often with their parents’ permission and help). And the reality is that many children will have been members of popular social sites for pre-teens like Club Penguin and Webkinz long before they turn 13, which experts actually argue isn’t such a bad thing. “It’s so important that they’re connected to their peers,” Buckleitner says. Building friendships is a large part of any child’s social development and identity. And as Fischthal also points out, the earlier kids start having contact with each other in a digital environment, the earlier they can learn from both their positive experiences and from their mistakes.

One common viewpoint rings true for most parents, experts, and educators alike: Supervision is essential from the moment your child has access to a computer or cell phone, be it their own device or a shared one. Levey recommends that parents always know the passwords to their children’s devices and check in on which apps their child is using. Buckleitner not only agrees but he also encourages parents to insist that their children inform them of their passwords as a prerequisite for internet use. “You might make a rule that stipulates: ‘I’ll let you have a Facebook account, but you have to let me keep your passwords— not as a cop, but to manage your information and to help in case you forget it.’” Buckleitner’s proposal might sound like a bit much to parents struggling to find a comfortable line between encouraging safe, responsible behavior online and granting their kids more independence and privacy, but most parents and kids can find a common ground that works for everyone. One suggestion that Levey has for keeping abreast of what your kids are doing online without breathing down their necks is simply to join the same social sites they do and follow them openly. In addition, Baszucki recommends keeping computers, personal or shared, in a common space at home, which makes it easier for children to understand that their online activities aren’t ever really private. As in dealing with many other issues that arise as children grow up, parents concerned about online behavior should try to establish sensible rules and consequences without seeming too judgmental. The reality is that your children will end up clicking links you’d rather they not see or potentially end up getting a message you’d rather they didn’t. “It’s a part of growing up,” says Fischthal. “But don’t get mad, because then the next time it happens, they may try and hide it— and that’s when it gets dangerous.” He suggests an open door policy where kids can talk about their digital activity or things they’ve encountered online (whether intentionally or not) without worrying that they’ll be punished or restricted in the future. And while parents should encourage children to report inappropriate behavior that they see, like bullying, they also should have conversations about not mistreating others. “A screen [can] make something feel anonymous,” Levey says, “but if they wouldn’t say something to

someone’s face, they shouldn’t be emboldened to say it online.”

STRIKING A BALANCE When it comes to technology and children, an important question for parents to consider is how much is too much. “You need a healthy balance of sitting in front of a computer and going outside and playing,” says Fischthal. “The key is in finding awesome activities that the kids will want to do off the computer.” Better yet, he adds, use that computer as a research tool for what to do in “the real world.” When it comes to screen time, it’s helpful to have concrete guidelines in place to encourage a healthy balance. For Levey, the rules of thumb are: “Definitely no gadgets at meal time.” Levey says. “Don’t have your kids take their phones to bed with them either.” With younger children, the biggest challenge in limiting their digital fun is facing their tantrums when you cut them off. With older children, the screen time question gets trickier because it’s so easy to alternate between homework and the internet’s infinite outlets for entertainment and socializing on their computers. While there are various tech devices and software programs you can use to monitor and limit device usage, a more productive path is to have a conversation about homework time and personal goals. Believe it or not, your children may even be grateful for your tips on organizing their study time and leisure time. While insisting that their children embrace a healthy balance of time with their gadgets and time in the 3D world, parents would be wise to consider striking a certain kind of balance themselves. Call it a matter of perspective. As a child gets older, it’s so easy to get caught up in what’s worrisome about digital technology that you can lose sight of all the things that are wonderful about it. Buckleitner offers a great tip: There are almost always ways, beginning with a Google search, for parents to show children how technology can be used as a helpful tool to dig deeper into their existing interests. If they love music, they can use their smartphone to create a music library; if they love horses, they can watch training videos on YouTube. Show them how technology can enhance, not take over, their real life passions—and, while you’re at it, find a few projects that you can pursue together.

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REQUIRED READING FOR EDUCATING CHILDREN Education Expert ML Nichols On Involvement, Parent-Teacher Tension, And Her New Book By Tess Cobrinik Whether your little scholar is just starting kindergarten or gearing up for fifth grade, the modern elementary school world can seem like a maze of parent-teacher tension, learning style nuances, and questions of how involved parents need to be. Navigating all this can be overwhelming, which is why ML Nichols—an education consultant and founder of The Parent Connection, a nonprofit parent education group—did plenty of research so you don’t have to. Her new book, The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, offers insights into the ins and outs of the elementary school system as well as the role that parents should play in their children’s education. We got her advice on how you can help your kids make the best of their school years. Tell us more about the overarching theme of your book, that involved parents translate to better students. I’ve been involved in schools [in the Boston area] for over 12 years now, and I’ve read a lot of research on the subject of parent involvement. There are literally over 70 studies on the subject, and all point to the same conclusion: Once parents get involved with their kids’ education, their children will do better in school. I don’t know why they keep doing the research, to be honest! What are some ways that a parent can be involved with their child’s education? First and most importantly, it really does make a difference what you do at home. Parents are at home with their kids three times longer than kids are in school—in waking hours, not just total time. [Parents] have a much bigger influence than teachers

do. Making connections at home with what your kids are learning and tapping into what they’re curious about is so important. Another way [to be involved] is with the class and the teacher. A lot of parents don’t have the time to get in and volunteer, but that doesn’t lessen how you can be involved with your child… [Outside the classroom] the third way is through the school council, PTAs, and committees. Tell us about different learning styles. Visual-spatial learners learn the best from what they see. For example, when practicing spelling, visual learners have the need to write down the word; it’s not enough for them to spell it out loud. If they can just spell out words out loud, then they’re probably more of an auditory learner. They process by what they hear. And then there are kinesthetic learners, who are more physical. What if you disagree with your child’s teacher about something? I think there’s an inherent conflict between teachers and parents. Schools have the huge job of moving hundreds of kids from Point A in September to Point Z in June; they have the collective two dozen kids to worry about in one classroom. We as parents have one child to worry about, so we’re micro-focused on that child. Hopefully that [inherent] tension can be channeled constructively. What should parents keep in mind when communicating with their child’s teachers? The technique I use is called “The Power of P3.” Start out in a positive way. If you go in with the belief that there is an issue but

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that you’re going to come out in a positive way, you’ll be able to solve it together. It’s a very big difference from going in and demanding [something from the teacher]. Next, be professional. Be polite and respectful in your observations, so the teacher hears the concern as opposed to an attack. Lastly, be persistent. Teachers are busy, but if you’re concerned about something—and you’re positive, professional, and persistent—you will get your child’s needs met. How involved should a parent be with their child’s homework? Your role as a parent is to guide, not to do. It’s okay to have their homework go back to the teacher with a few mistakes. The temptation may be to fix it, but the teacher needs to understand what your child’s needs are. You can check it to make sure it’s done and that there are no mistakes that happened because your child was rushing. Rather than doing the homework with them, promise to check in and see what they can do on their own. How should parents handle homework meltdowns? A lot of times homework meltdowns come from kids feeling stressed and overscheduled. If homework doesn’t seem like a priority at home [amidst all their other activities] but the teachers stress its importance, it’s hard for children to reconcile that and a lot of meltdowns happen. Have homework be a priority—and take it on with a positive attitude. Any general homework tips? Break homework down into parts so it’s not overwhelming and take

breaks on the downhill. If they do the hard parts first, they’re much more inclined to want to come back, because they feel like they can get [the rest] done with no problem. Praising effort is so important, much more so than the grade. Make sure they’re doing their homework on their own timing. If your fifth grader wants to come home and do his homework right away but your second grader is not in that mode and wants to go out and play before doing it, it’s important to recognize and honor that. You finish your book by emphasizing how important self-advocacy is for children. How and when should a parent introduce this concept? Before kids can actually advocate for themselves, they need to be comfortable raising their hand and saying, “I need something, I don’t understand this, can you explain it again?” There are some kids who are comfortable doing that in kindergarten, and there are some kids not comfortable doing that until fifth grade. It’s important that parents understand where their kids fall on that continuum. The earlier you recognize where the comfort level lies, the earlier you can start giving them the language to speak to their teachers and ask for help.

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Two Top NYC Students, One A College Freshman And The Other A High School Senior, Compare Notes On Their College Admissions Journey By Sarah Torretta Klock Applying to college these days can unnerve even the smoothest of high school students, not to mention what it does to their parents. Rather than rehashing the advice that the experts have offered up, we consulted two on-the-ground sources: Tess Cobrinik, a high school senior at an elite public school currently applying to colleges herself, and Savannah

Birnbaum, a college freshman and private school grad who survived the admissions trenches and, yes, lived to tell the tale. Here, the two savvy NYC natives share some firsthand insight into how they successfully are approaching or have approached the application process without losing (too much) sleep.

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GET IN GEAR, EARLY For both Tess and Savannah, college preparation began as early as middle school, with a buzz in the air that equated good grades with good college prospects. Tess recalls a subtle shift in her consciousness about schoolwork in 8th grade. “You start wanting to get good grades for things other than making your parents proud,” she says. “You become aware of college, and you realize that how well you do in school will have an effect on you.” It’s usually not until 10th grade, however, that most kids start getting truly serious about college prep. Around this time, it’s beneficial to start creating opportunities and experiences for yourself that enhance your high school career—and that speak to the kind of college student you want to become. “You have to figure out what you love and have a solid commitment to it before you apply to colleges,” Savannah explains. As someone who loves culture and journalism, for example, she spent a semester in Australia as an exchange student to add some cultural capital to her resume, and she found ways to display her interest in writing by working as an editor for her school’s literary magazine (and—as did Tess this past summer—taking on an internship here at New York Family!). Both girls agree that finding activities in which you’re genuinely interested is key. Tess played soccer throughout high school because she likes the sport, not because she felt the pressure to include one in her application. That said, she also knows that being able to demonstrate a

strong history with the sport will look good to an admission committee, particularly given the fact that she hopes to play soccer in college, too. If a little bit of self-fashioning is in order to successfully green-light your application through the college admissions committees, it’s equally necessary to put some thought into how you will attack the college entrance exams. Tess’ approach to studying for the SATs was selfdirected and methodical. “I bought three SAT books and I wrote out a schedule for myself,” she says. “Every night, I’d tell myself, ‘Okay, I have to do a chapter and I have to do this many minutes of practice questions.” But Savannah notes it depends on how you study best. “If you need a little more guidance or someone to just say, ‘Hey, you need to do this now,’ having a regularly scheduled time for test prep with a tutor might work better for you,” she advises. CHOOSE THE RIGHT SCHOOLS How do you even begin narrowing down the list of potential alma maters to a manageable and realistic list? For Savannah, campus visits were key to having a sense of how compatible she and a particular school could be. “You’ll be surprised how much just walking around on campus gives you a feeling for whether or not a school is the right option for you,” she says. Tess agrees. She says that there’s a “vibe thing” when you visit a campus—and the more places you visit, the more clearly defined your own checklist for the right college becomes. “The first continued on page 17

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couple of visits I didn’t really know what I was looking for,” Tess says. “After I went on a couple of weekend tours, I was able to compare different places and pinpoint what I liked and didn’t like about each school.” By many standards, 3:3:3 is a solid formula for narrowing down the college applications lists: three safety schools, three target schools, and three reach schools. Tess explains: “You want to have a range of options when you are applying. ‘Target’ schools are typically ones that you find to be a good fit, you’d love to go there, and there’s a good chance that you’ll get in. ‘Reach’ schools accept test scores higher than your own average, but it doesn’t hurt to push yourself a bit and try. And ‘safety’ schools are those that accept scores generally below your own average.” No matter where your schools fall in this range, it’s important that they all be places where you imagine you could be happy. “You don’t want to waste time writing applications for schools that you’re not that interested in,” warns Savannah, pointing to how reach schools especially tend to require heavy supplements. The same mentality goes with safety schools: “It’s really important that you don’t discount your safety schools. If they are the only ones you get into, you need to happy going there—just even for at least a year,” adds Tess. And which factors are to be considered in one’s overall happiness rating of a particular college? For Tess, the size of a school is really important—not too big, not too small. And she wants a serious school: “I want students who want to learn things. I want to be able to go to a class and have all my classmates interested in the subject and motivated to do well because they like school, not because they’re enrolled in the school.” Savannah wanted for a healthy arts program. She likes a student body in which a majority are interested in the arts and form their communities around them. Urban versus rural was another consideration for her, having grown up in New York City: “I wanted to get out of New York,” she says. “That was the one thing I knew. But I also knew that I wanted access to a city, so if the school was not in a city, there was at least a city close by.”

and Savannah both emphasize the importance of staying true to your inner compass. “People love to talk about the college search all the time—what they like or don’t like about a school, whether they can get in or whether other people can get in,” Tess says. “It can make you really anxious, thinking of all the things you have left to do or the things you haven’t done that someone else has done.” “You’ve got to tune it out,” Savannah advises. “It’s an individual journey, and if you let other people’s opinions about a school influence you, you could be missing out on something that would have been a good fit for you.” Parents have a lot invested in your decisions, and it can be a challenge to balance their desires and worries with your own. Tess encourages you to take their advice to heart, but don’t let it overwhelm you. “My parents know me so well,” she says, “and when they weigh in, I know it’s definitely something I want to listen to and think about. But ultimately it’s my decision to make, and I have to recognize that at times I’ve got to go with what I really want.”

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STAY SANE Savannah knows how easy it is to let the stress of it all get the better of you—it certainly got to her. “I started to get very caught up in the nervousness. I stressed about getting everything perfect, which meant that I tended to procrastinate the work, and it made it all so much harder,” she • 96-acre campus, 12 miles from NYC recalls. Luckily, she works well under pressure, but she doesn’t recommend • Rigorous college preparatory curriculum pushing the applications off until the last minute. Looking back, she realizes • Renowned Harkness teaching method she would have managed her time and mental well-being a lot better if • Diverse student body: 30 countries, 17 states she could do it over. Tess, who’s currently in the • New 75,000 sq. ft. athletic and arts center throes of applying to her favorite schools, is doing her best to keep • Private busing options it all in perspective. “The thing I try GRADES 5-12 DAY & BOARDING to remember is that [applying to college] is a smaller deal than it can sometimes seem. It’s overwhelming when you feel like you have to get The Masters School is a coed day and boarding school into your first choice school—or th that engages 5 th through 12 grade students in aDobbs Ferry, NY 10522 49 Clinton Avenue, when you hear that other people rigorous college preparatory curriculum. are accepted into a school and you 914.479.6420 Masters, renowned for its Harkness teaching methodology, develops aren’t and you don’t know what’s the complex skills for a complex world. Both day and boarding going to happen to you. It can seem students benefit from the resources, diversity and activities of Masters’ GRADES 5-12 like a really big she says. “But DAYthing,” & BOARDING vibrant seven-day campus and proximity to New York City. whatever happens, keep in mind that Located on a beautiful 96-acre campus just 5 miles from the Tappan we will go to college, learn things Zee Bridge, the Masters’ advantage is closer than you think. To learn and meet people, and then we’ll get more,and please visit, or call 914.479.6420 to RSVP to The Masters School is a coed day boarding school out of college just like everyone else. an th th upcoming admission event or schedule a private tour. engages through 12 grade students in a We will still bethat happy. It will 5all be

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MANAGE THE NOISE The stress of applying to college can make many people go crazy, but you don’t have to be one of them. Friends and family will have a lot to say about your choices andGRADES approach 5-12 to the admissions process, DAY but& Tess BOARDING

rigorous college preparatory curriculum. fine.” OPEN HOUSE These are optimistic words toHarkness teaching methodology, develops Masters, renowned for its Middle School Saturday, November 9 the there complex skills any. for a Now, complex world. Both day and boarding abide by, if ever were Upper School Saturday, November 9 students benefit from the resources, diversity and activities of Masters’ get studying for those SATs!

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“There’s a boarding school for every child,” says Diana Fisher, school advisor at the Parents League of New York. In fact, there are 286 across the United States, according to the Boarding School Review. Nicole Moon, Director of Admissions at Purnell School in Pottersville, New Jersey, agrees with the “lid for every pot” philosophy. She says, “There’s small, large, single sex, coed; from therapeutic to the most rigorous academic school.” Programs also vary from traditional to progressive programs. If you don’t want your child to board for all four years, Moon notes that students can even enter as juniors or seniors and use the experience as “practice” for college. On the flipside, your child is ready for the boarding school experience in their middle school years, there are junior boarding schools for grades 6-9 too.

Purnell School, Pottersville NJ, All Girls Grades 9-12

10 Things Parents Should Know About Boarding Schools By Lorraine Duffy Merkl “There was a day when ‘boarding school’ meant you dropped your kids off in September and picked them up in May,” says Tom Sheppard, the director of admissions at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. There are also the clichés that depict boarding schools as playgrounds for the children of the super-rich, as well as places

where troubled kids get shipped off to. Sheppard assures us: “That is definitely not the case anymore.” The reality is that the residential aspect of boarding school is a way for students to learn beyond the classroom, with plenty of parental visits for games, performances, and teacher meetings. We reached out to parents, educators, and school

families there. It felt like an extension of home.” Gina Malin, director of school advisory services at the Parents League of New York, points to the sense of community as a big reason that boarding schools are renowned for their school spirit. STRUCTURE: Structured days are fundamental to helping adolescents learn to live a well-ordered life and are a main part of a boarding school’s philosophy. Each school has its own framework, so it is important to ask what’s happening all day, all night, and on the weekends. Do children have to show up to meals? Is there assigned seating? How are the classes blocked? There might be school on Saturdays and a weekday dedicated to extracurricular activities. “Kids are kept very busy, and there’s a lot of accountability,” Moon says. Fisher makes a point of mentioning that there is also enough down time, so students can enjoy solitude or socialize informally.

COMMUNITY: FACULTY AND FRIENDS AS FAMILY: Boarding schools are communities in and of themselves. Students live in dorms with each other and get to know each other more intensely than at a day school. So it’s no surprise that community is often a close second to academics as the top reasons to choose a school. Usually, the sense of community becomes evident as soon as you hit campus. Smart City Kids founder Roxanna Reid says a big reasons she chose to send her 15-year-old son to Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey: “I saw nice kids and teachers who were committed, raising their

“When you send your child to boarding school, there’s this fear that no one is going to have the insight into them that you do,” says Gabriella Rowe, head of school at the Mandell School, whose own 14-year-old son Julian is a freshman at the Hotchkiss School in Boston, Massachusetts. But she insists that trepidation goes away when you see that the people really know what’s up in your child’s life every single day—and she personally feels very confident in her son’s teachers. Reid adds, “I feel like Ty’s protected and taken care of. There’s a

A Boarding School Sampler While boarding school options are numerous, we’ve put together a list of a few schools within reasonable range of the city, that all have a reputation for academic excellence as well as a sense of community CONNECTICUT Forman School (Litchfield), Indian Mountain School (Lakeville), Kent School (Kent), Marianapolis Preparatory School (Thompson), Salisbury School (Salisbury), Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School (Ghent),

MASSACHUSETTS Bement School (Deerfield), The Hotchkiss School (Boston), Stoneleigh-Burnham School (Greenfield), Tabor Academy (Marion), NEW HAMPSHIRE Cardigan Mountain School (Canaan), Kimball Union Academy (Meriden),

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NEW JERSEY Blair Academy (Blairstown), The Hun School of Princeton (Princeton), Lawrenceville School (Lawrenceville), Purnell School (Pottersville), NEW YORK EF International Academy (Tarrytown), The Gow School, (South Wales), The Kildonan School (Amenia)

Léman Manhattan (New York), The Masters School (Dobbs Ferry), Millbrook School (Millbrook), Ross School (East Hampton), Trinity-Pawling School (Pawling), PENNSYLVANIA Valley Forge Military Academy (Wayne),

lot more vigilance [at Blair] than even I could offer while I was at work.” From the school’s perspective, Sheppard notes that safety is the number one priority at the Lawrenceville School. At Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York, director of admissions Keith Holton confirms that there are a series of checklists in place—if a student misses the morning school meeting, for example, they’ll be tracked down right away. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: There’s really no right answer to which locale will suit your child best. Moon advises fit first, location second. “Find the perfect school for you regardless of where it’s located,” she says. That said, the commute remains an important factored. For Rowe, she decided she could live with the fact that Julian’s perfect school ended up being in Boston, because the four-hour drive for weekend visits and games was still manageable. Reid, on the other hand, was relieved that the right school for Ty was only an hour away. “I really wanted to both be a part of the community and be able to attend as many events as I could. The close proximity makes this as seamless as if he were still at home,” she says.

ACADEMICS, ARTS, ATHLETICS: Boarding schools motivate children to develop a variety of interests, and the beauty of it all, according to Fisher, is that so much stimulation is available right on campus. This offers a balance that may otherwise elude many students in the city, where organizing, and scheduling kids’ schedules can be difficult. “When Ty was home, in order to excel academically, he often had to give up on the arts and sports,” Reid recalls. “There just wasn’t enough time.” Rowe agrees, noting that her son is now in a strong sports program, where everyone, not just the top athletes, have the ability to play. Plus, he has access to plenty of arts opportunities too. Not only is this a great thing for kids who may have issues with time management, but, as Moon points out, also gets students on track for building their resumes for college applications. DORM LIFE: “Life in the dormitories provides opportunities for leadership, like a running the dorm or creating the residential activities,” Sheppard says. Boarding schools also attract students from all over the U.S. and the

world, so kids learn to live with individuals with different backgrounds and opinions and have a great opportunity to share both differences and commonalities. Dorm life also goes hand-in-hand with acquiring a whole new set of skills for becoming self-reliant and grow emotionally. “It’s a precursor to what they’re going to encounter when they get to university,” Sheppard points out. INDEPENDENCE: “Part of the process of being independent is providing students the opportunities to do things on their own, like homework and getting where they need to be,” Holton says. Sheppard also stresses the importance of helping students understand that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. “It puts upon them a responsibility they might not have at home. Not only are they responsible for themselves, but [also for] all the boys and girls sharing that residential space with them,” she explains. BOUNDARIES: The residential setting helps children recognize and respect limits

and boundaries. “Of course, there are clearly-defined rules and consequences, Sheppard says. “But any good boarding school is going to have systems in place, like counseling and getting input from parents, so when dorm life hits the ground running the dorm parents are prepared for the nuances of each child.” Rowe notes that stereotypical teen issues that parents might be concerned about when it comes to boarding school life—like drugs, alcohol, boy/girl problems—are really high school issues, not only boarding school ones. Be that as it may, how does one accept that their child is living by someone else’s regulations? “Find a school that’s consistent with how you parent,” Reid advises. YOUR FAMILY LIFE: One question that looms large for parents considering boarding school is what the effect will be on their family unit. “There is a misconception that you lose your child to boarding school,” Malin says. To the contrary, some feel that the quality time between parents and children is actually enhanced. “All the messages they had instilled at home are now also instilled by other adults in school, which adds greater value,” Sheppard says.

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THE STATE OF THE G&T I share my perspectives as a journalist having covered local education for the past eight years and as a parent with two children in public school. One of my children has attended two top G&T schools (Lower Lab and NEST) and is now at a third (Hunter); my other child currently attends a solid neighborhood school. The makers of IQ tests contend that their tests measure innate abilities that cannot be prepped for, but that just hasn’t been the experience of many families I know. Even at 4 years old, children who tutored for the tests are not only familiar with the kinds of questions on the exam, they’re also equipped with test-taking strategies. The result is that we end up seeming like a city that’s spawning thousands of geniuses every year, when what we really have is a lot of smart kids who are well-prepared. NYC has five elite citywide G&T schools that begin in kindergarten. There’s always a surplus of kids who score in the qualifying percentiles for a seat at these schools. The district-wide G&T schools have a lower bar for entry and also have many more qualifying students than seats for them. One common suggestion is for the city to do away with all but a few G&T programs. But despite all the problems I outlined (and you can find the longer version of this article on our website), I don’t think we should shrink the numbers. The G&T schools and programs add to the number of good options out there—and probably do play a role in keeping committed families in the city. On the flipside, should we add more G&Ts? I’d say yes, but very sparingly and strategically—and in cases where they could help anchor a middling school or help stabilize

the family base in a neighborhood. But where there already are a sizeable number of good schools, what is really needed instead is more construction and more seats for everyone, not just for G&T students. For years now, the city has been searching for ways to end up with a higher percentage of minority students in its G&T programs. That was the impetus behind a new and supposedly tutor-proof test introduced earlier this year. I agree with the goal, but I worry that it’s a waste of time and money to try to re-invent the G&T admissions process every few years—when what basically follows is that savvy families, with the means to hire tutors, make the necessary adjustments to prepare their kids, while families who aren’t as fortunate simply can’t afford to support their kids in the same way. In the end, rather than trying to make the G&T bureaucracy fairer, it may be more helpful to low income families to redouble the efforts to create more high quality, well-run public and charter schools in their neighborhoods. – New York Family Editor Eric Messinger

SO LONG ERB! The big news in private school admissions is that the organization in charge of recommending admissions policies to the city’s independent schools has officially recommended that their schools no longer require a test that’s commonly known as the ERB for kindergarten admissions. (Technically, the ERB stands for the company, the Educational Records Bureau, that administers the test.) It’s up to individual schools whether they want to follow the recommendation or not. Schools also have the option of not requiring the ERB but still

NEW YORK FAMILY RESOURCES Weekly Scoop Newsletter: New York Family’s education coverage is a feast of local issues, trends, and tips to help parents help their children. Our free Weekly Scoop e-newsletter tips followers off to new content on our daily website. Sign up at More on our website—it’s a one-stop destination for timely, informative education-related content. Updated daily, our blogs provide a range of practical tips to navigating NYC school systems to more general ideas about how to help your kids make the most of their learning. The Blackboard Awards: The prestigious Blackboard Awards honor excellence in education throughout the city and in every educational sector, celebrating wonderful schools, principals, and teachers. By dint of their mission, the Awards are also a resource for parents as they seek out the best education for their children. Learn more at The Ultimate Guide to Education: This special issue, The Ultimate Guide to Education in the City, is published annually in November, covering important education issues and trends, admissions advice at every level, and the role of the parent in a child’s education. Find current and past issues at

accepting ERB scores as another piece of evidence they use to get an accurate portrait of a child. Private schools get to know their applicants and applicant families in a variety of ways, including child interviews, parent interviews, school tours, and recommendations from nursery school directors and others who know the child and family—but the ERB was long held as the most objective measure the schools had of a child’s academic ability, until it no longer was. The reason why the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Great New York (ISAAGNY) is now advising schools not to use the ERB is because of the perception that private tutoring for the test has become pervasive, creating an unfair advantage and calling into the question the validity of the scores. What’s next? I don’t think another universally accepted exam will pop up to replace the ERB, because ISAAGNY knows that parents will simply start prepping their kids for that one. More likely, schools will find other ways of enhancing their admissions process to gain the kind of insights they thought they were getting from the ERB. This could add more time to an admissions process that many parents find far too time-consuming already. On the other hand, sending a child to an independent school is a big family commitment in every way, not just financially—and it’s in everyone’s interest to make good matches between schools and students. So, yes, schools will adjust,

possibly adding tests of their own, and parents will adjust too. But count on a lot of families still having their little kids tutored for skills-building and testing-taking in the hope that they will be well prepared for whatever kind of admissions testing comes their way. If it’s done by professionals in a low-key, age-appropriate, and engaging way, it can be just another fun activity for a young child. If it’s pressurized, and your 4-year-old is feeling that pressure, it’s time to make a change. – E.M.

THE BIG QUESTION FACING CHARTER SCHOOLS Once he takes office, will MayorElect de Blasio continue to insist that well-funded charter schools pay rent to the city for school space? I don’t think so. For one thing, they are public schools. For another, if you charge charter schools for rent, I’m not sure how the Department of Education could then justify not also charging all the wonderful neighborhood public schools around the city that raise lots of additional private monies through the efforts of their robust PTAs—the kinds of public schools which, I assume, the Mayor-Elect’s own children attend or attended. If you charged the charters, which still largely serve underprivileged neighborhoods, and didn’t charge public schools in affluent neighborhoods, who would you be penalizing and who would you be helping? – E.M. continued on page 22

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continued from page 21


Gotham Schools Insideschools NYC Public School Parents



The Parents League of New York The Independent School Admission Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) The New York City Department of Education (DOE) Victoria Goldman’s The Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools

ISAAGNY (see left) NYC Private Schools Blog The NYC Private School Admissions Handbook The Parents League Of New York (see left) Victoria Goldman’s The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools and Selective Public Schools

Many neighborhood enrichment centers offer preschool alternatives.

FOR PUBLIC SCHOOL Clara Hemphill’s various guides to NYC public schools Class Size Matters DOE (see above)

FOR CHARTER SCHOOL DOE (see left) New York City Charter School Center

FOR PAROCHIAL SCHOOL Archdiocese of New York

For other faith-based schools, contact local organizations affiliated with your religion.


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EBL Coaching Dolphin Academic Prep Launch Math Achievement Centers Kumon Mathnasium Next Level Learning Prestige Prep The Princeton Review


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Honoring Excellence In Local Education In Public, Private, Charter, And Parochial Schools

N E W YO RK FA M I LY ULT I M AT E GUI D E TO ED UCAT I O N 201 3 -201 4 • 23

Andrew Schwartz


Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Our mission is to educate children to be thoughtful citizens of a democratic society by providing an education that is investigative and reflective, encourages choice, and expects responsibility and discipline in all areas of learning and social behavior. The community works collaboratively, depending on the contributions of parents, children,

Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. Our mission and philosophy aim to provide a school experience that emphasizes: 1) learning as an integrated experience, taking into account the deep interests and the questions of each child, and 2) a curriculum derived from the adults’ passions and understandings of child development. There are extensive opportunities in the visual and performing arts, crossage groupings, and intensive and ongoing exploration of educational practice. We are also especially grateful for our strong teacherparent partnerships, which are integral in our process of education and the life of the school. What’s new? Our students’ hard work, under the guidance of a gifted gardener, transformed the courtyard into a bountiful source for fresh vegetables, which are used in the morning snacks that the students prepare each day. Our halls are filled with the aromas of cooking—an especially appetizing part of the curriculum that combines reading, math, science, and nutrition. The children have added composting and the maintenance of worm farms to their skills. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? I have never experienced a school that compares with how the teachers know each child so well. I love how the structure of multi-age classes and two-year looping enables parents and teachers to form a strong bond. I love the small size of the school (200-206 children) that fosters the family atmosphere where children seem as close as siblings. I love what the 5th graders write in the spring, which they compose for their “yearbook” titled Recollections. One of my favorites captured what I observe every day: “Here you have the freedom of choice of your values. We do reading because we value it. We value our learning, our time, and we value self-control. We value being responsible for ourselves.” My biggest challenge is to protect and sustain the school’s core values and methods in the current Department of Education regime that features relentless standardized testing (now extended to the youngest children) for the sake of teacher ratings generated from ridiculously faulty rationales.

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what we’re doing and we’re willing to revisit old ideas and new ideas to make the best choices for our children. What’s new? The proposal to expand CPE II from K-5 to K-8 was approved by the Panel for Educational Policy on October 30, 2013. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, we will colocate the middle school grades of CPE II in building M013.


What do you love about your school? I am proud that we are able to accomplish a strong academic program that includes the arts as an integral part of our curriculum. We maintain a happy environment. We have kids skipping down the hall and treating each other kindly. We do not resort to detentions. About 25 percent of our students have IEPs, and we believe that all kids are gifted. We don’t use tests to determine a child’s gifts and abilities; we use our innate understanding of children as we observe and support them.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Central Park East II provides a student-centered education for diverse learners in an environment built on a strong foundation of community. Our mission is to help students become inquisitive, critical, creative, and socially responsible life-long learners and problemsolvers. We work to identify and build on all students’ individual experiences, interests, perspectives, understandings, and abilities. At the same time, we’re committed to helping all students develop an awareness and appreciation of the diversity of experiences, interests, perspectives, understandings, and abilities present in any community. An integral part of our mission is to work with students to create a positive, socially and emotionally supportive community, because we believe that students learn best when they feel that they’re in a safe place where they feel known and where they will be treated with kindness and respect. Our vision of such a community includes strong and collaborative relationships among students, among staff members, between students and staff, and between the school and our students’ families. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. I think what’s really special about our school is that we continually assess


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and professional educators to realize the potential of human capacity.

Andrew Schwartz


he Blackboard Awards was founded more than 10 years ago by New York Family’s parent company, Manhattan Media, as a way of giving back to school communities in Manhattan and around the city. It has two primary goals: to honor and celebrate excellence in local education and to serve as an ongoing resource for parents. Over the years, the Blackboard Awards have evolved into two special ceremonies, celebrating schools and principals in the fall and teachers in the spring. We honor excellence in all education sectors (public, private, charter, and parochial) and all grade levels (nursery through high school). Parents are welcome and encouraged to nominate their beloved schools and educators, and we typically hear from several thousand local families in the course of the year. We also have a board of advisors, experts in local education, who make recommendations as well. If you would like to nominate your school or principal or child’s teachers, please visit

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy and academic niche. Dwight School ignites the “spark of genius” in every child by crafting a personalized journey for every student based on his/her interests, talents, and passions with an extremely low teacher-student ratio of 1:4. Personalized learning, community, and global vision are the three pillars upon which a unique Dwight education rests.

What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? The students inspire me every day. After 48 years in education, I remain impressed and energized by their infinite creativity, deep and varied personal passions, and unlimited capacities to change the world. So too am I inspired by our amazing Head of School, Dianne Drew, and world-class faculty, who help students reach their greatest potential. As we grow our global footprint, explore new paths, and meet new partners across town or around the world, we always ask ourselves: “Will this benefit our students?” If the answer is “yes,” then the challenge becomes bringing that value to our students.




The Blackboard Awards would like to thank our Board of Advisors for their insight and information about excellent schools and educators in New York City. The Board includes Inside Schools, the New York City Charter School Center, the NYC Private Schools Blog, School Search NYC, and Smart City Kids. Mary: I love the balance that our school achieves. Children are not only taught to be kind and respectful, but their minds also are stimulated intellectually and artistically. The best part about being Co-Director is meeting families from all over the world who play their part in our lovely community.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy and academic niche. Garden House School is dedicated to creating a caring, positive atmosphere for preschoolers. The program aims to bridge the gap from home to school by helping children develop a positive selfimage and social skills. Our curriculum involves sensory, motor, perceptual, and language skills. Work emphasizes the process rather than the product, fostering a sense of accomplishment and pride. The Reading & Writing Program will enable children to develop these skills, which will enhance their learning and increase self-esteem. Children grow in predictable stages, yet the teachers treat each child as an individual, helping them to feel success without pressure. Garden House School’s mission is to provide a positive, first school experience for young children that will lay the foundation for their future. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. Our Early Academics begin at age 3. We are particularly happy with the achievements made with our The Little Readers program. What’s new? The School has implemented a chess program in kindergarten and enhanced our Artist of the Month program by creating a gallery where the children will view artwork. We will incorporate visits from artists, and the children will be able to create their own rendition of the artists’ work. We are proud of our continued efforts to bring the “real world” to our students in an age appropriate and joyful manner. What do you love about your school?

Natalie: We educate the whole child. Our program offers a holistic approach in which the various aspects of a child’s development are embraced and nurtured. As Co-Director, I have the privilege to work and play with children, while simultaneously shaping their minds. I am always inspired.


Andrew Schwartz

What’s new? Dwight has been named an IB Open World School, piloting groundbreaking online education that extends the IB diploma program to students around the globe.


Marcus Photography

Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. Founded in 1872, Dwight was the first U.S. school to offer the comprehensive International Baccalaureate curriculum— recognized worldwide as the “gold standard” in pre-university preparation. Dwight educates principled, open-minded risk takers who can thrive anywhere and make a difference locally and globally. Cross-campus curricular collaborations and exchanges connect our New York students with peers in Dwight London, Seoul, Beijing, and on Vancouver Island. In early 2013, Dwight refurbished the dormant recreational center of the East River Landing cooperative (First Avenue between 108th and 109th Streets) to bring shared value to both its 6,500 residents and Dwight students. The new 40,000-squarefoot Dwight School Athletic Center— with an indoor pool, regulationsize high school gym, rooftop tennis courts, and more—bridges community boundaries, is launching a wide range of health, fitness, and youth leadership programs, and contributing to the renaissance in East Harlem.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Great Oaks Charter School’s mission is to create a rigorous, supportive middle and high school program ensuring graduates the requisite knowledge, skills, and habits to earn a degree from a competitive fouryear college or university. To meet these demanding goals, we focus on school culture and discipline, as well

as individualized tutoring two hours daily. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. One thing that makes Great Oaks vastly different is the Tutor Corps, made up of some of the nation’s top college graduates, which creates an extremely low student-to-adult ratio. Our unique approach to blended learning also sets our school apart. Each of our students and tutors is equipped with Chrome Books by which to access our online interactive learning portal aligned to the Common Core standards. What’s new? Our school has partnered with the Achievement Network, so students take benchmark assessments every 6-8 weeks that allow us to measure their progress and help us see how they’re performing against those in other schools. Our students are in the top third of the schools in the network and outperformed on every standard that our teachers have covered! What do you love about your school? What are its biggest challenges? When I joined Great Oaks, I had a strong vision: prepare students for college success using discipline, individualized tutoring, and relationships with families. Now, seeing that vision come to life, I love everything about being its leader. We have built a team of strong, dedicated educators; communicated to our students the importance of coming to school on time, in perfect uniform, with homework done, ready to learn; and built a community of families that support our school. Most of all, we are preparing our students for college. Attracting and retaining talented teachers and tutors is our school’s biggest challenge as we grow. With the best educators in front of our students, they will be continued on page 26

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What’s new? The high school program has an innovative schedule that includes longer periods as well as a Wednesday Lab Day, where the students are afforded the time to engage with their subjects more intensively. During what we call “March Madness,” our 10th graders’ regular classes are suspended for the month so that they may work to complete their year-long personal projects.

able to reach our lofty academic aspirations for them. Our students deserve nothing but the best.


What do you love about your school? What do you see as the school’s biggest challenges? There are no free-riders at Grace. Everyone chips in to make things work. The students feel responsible for the success of their school, the faculty go the extra mile, and the parents are an amazing resource. Our biggest challenge is growing the high school while maintaining the closeness of the community and the spirit of shared endeavor.

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Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. Our international exchange program, which is available beginning in 7th grade, allows students to experience school and home life in China, Japan, India, France, and Spain—and also to host students in their homes from those countries. We have an extensive commitment to service and service learning throughout the community, and we have won countless awards for sustainability. The range of meaningful things that the students of all ages do to make a difference for others is awe-inspiring.


Andrew Schwartz

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Grace Church School is a blend of tradition and innovation. We believe that there is a sequence of skills and information that needs to be passed on. We also believe that it is the teacher’s job to adjust how they teach to how the students learn as individuals in the context of a group, rather than from a fixed pedagogy. We feel strongly that students at all ages learn more when they work collaboratively. Just as importantly, we believe that students who have a strong sense of self will be more successful as students and happier as adults. One of the signature elements of GCS is how we build community. We are a caring school where students learn and grow in the context of a multi-generational community.


Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Hunter College High School is a test-in school for academically gifted and talented students. Our students are afforded a rich, deep, rigorous core curriculum in all academic disciplines and in the arts. Our core program of study is supplemented by a wide variety of extracurricular and co-curricular opportunities in academics, art, music, theatre, and athletics, and [there’s] great flexibility for students in planning their own academic programs in the junior and senior years. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. Despite the intensity of the workload

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associated with their classes and along with their well-documented academic achievements, our students find successes in many extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Our fencing teams, chess team, creative writing programs, MathCounts middle school team, History Bowl team, and Science Research program produce individual and team honors at the city, state, and national levels on a regular basis. What’s new? This year, we have four SIEMENS Science Competition semifinalists and one finalist, a remarkable achievement for a school our size (approximately 200 students per grade). Last May, our girls fencing team won its fourth consecutive New York City championship. What do you love about your school? What do you see as the school’s biggest challenges? At about 200 students per grade, our school is small enough that I can walk the halls every morning and see essentially every single student in class. Individual students have a real impact within the school, but the school is also big enough to allow our students to discover new possibilities and make new friends throughout their six years here. I love watching 7th grade tweens become thoughtful, caring, accomplished young adults. I love working with the talented and dedicated faculty, who are always looking for new and better ways to allow students to reach their full potentials. As a public school funded through CUNY, we have been fortunate with our city funding, but we remain challenged by a facility which limits our ability to grow some programs we are most excited about, such as robotics.


AWARD: OUTSTANDING MIDDLE SCHOOL/HIGH SCHOOL Describe your school’s core educational philosophy and academic niche. ICE uses a project-oriented curriculum requiring students to complete authentic open-ended tasks within the core academic disciplines: literature, math, science, history, and foreign language. We use extensive group work to guide students’ social and emotional growth within an academic context. They are

Andrew Schwartz

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prepared to complete Performance Based Assessment Tasks that offer tremendous opportunities for individualized pathways to reach community-wide instructional goals. Students are continually challenged. The intended goal is having each student complete college-level work in the 11th and 12th grades.   Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. While all of our programs offer students tremendous learning opportunities, our music and science programs currently engage high school students in high-level authentic performance opportunities. Eleventh and 12th grade students develop their science investigation projects for submission to the New York Science and Engineering Fair. Several of our students had internships in NYU and CUNY neuroscience labs and have gone to colleges with developed neuroscience programs based on these experiences. Our music program uses a project-oriented approach to guide students to write music and lyrics for a new set of songs each year that are performed on stages in New York and overseas at international music festivals.   What’s new?   This year we started theater and computer programming courses. We hope that every student will leave school knowing how to perform basic programming tasks and that the most engaged and interested students will have the necessary foundation for college-level computer science courses.   What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? I believe that we continually demonstrate that it is possible to do a lot with a little. We value the power of supportive relationships and make decisions about kids based on each continued on page 28

The United Federation of Teachers Salutes The schools and principals honored with this year’s 2013 BLACKBOARD AWARDS We join in celebrating the honorees and their contributions to building the caring school communities dedicated to excellence that our city needs.

United Federation of Teachers • A Union of Professionals Michael Mulgrew, President 52 Broadway, New York, NY 10004 •


This past month, Mandell students presented their documentary on green space in urban environments, “Finding Green,” at the TEDxYouth Dream Big…Then Do It! conference at The School at Columbia. Students learn to connect and collaborate in service via partnerships with organizations such as Manhattan Children’s Center, Asphalt Green, and Action Against Hunger. Through our annual service trip to a Dominican Republic orphanage, Orfanato Niño’s de Cristo, students come to understand that they can have a positive effect on the world. Since our first trip, the Mandell community has donated musical instruments, sports equipment, food, books, and basic necessities worth more than $100,000.

In addition to our annual Blackboard Awards for Schools and Principals, New York Family also honors exceptional classroom educators with the Blackboard Awards for Teachers, presented in the spring. Here are the inspiring honorees from our spring 2013 ceremony: Elisha Ann: PS 158 The Bayard Taylor School Donivan Barton: MS 54 Booker T Washington Middle School Mia Bauman: Columbus Pre-School Suzanne Budesa: PS 364 Earth School Cynthia Castro: PS 163 Manhattan, Alfred E. Smith School Sabrina Charles: PS 3 Charrette School Elizabeth Duberstein: Egbert Intermediate School Rachel Goetz: York Avenue Preschool Frank Hatsis: The Speyer Legacy School Christina Jenkins: NYC iSchool Yeon Ji: Queens School Of Inquiry Doreen Kinley & Perri Lawrie: Kipp Infinity Elementary School Miranda Lau: Hunter College Elementary School Brigida Littles: PS 452 Kay Rothman: NYC Lab School Leslie Rossello: Our World Neighbor Charter School Ben Rubenstein: Bard High School Early College Steven P. Schwartz: St. Hilda & St. Hugh’s School

What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? Our school enables our children to connect deeply with the world around them. Our curriculum does an amazing job of setting exceptionally high standards while giving children many opportunities to prove to themselves just how capable they really are. There is no test that you can give a child to get them to understand their impact on the environment or to motivate them toward lifelong environmental stewardship. Our greatest challenge is to educate and nurture successful adults, not just excellent test takers.

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Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. The Mandell School provides a challenging educational environment

through an integrated curriculum, a dedicated faculty, and innovative facilities. We believe that the pursuit of academic excellence is deeply connected to the love of school and joy of collaboration. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children’s environment accurately reflects the diversity of the world. Mandell uses both a traditional and progressive approach to teaching with an emphasis on experiential learning. The school’s mission supports the concept that each child has a unique learning style. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. One of the ways Mandell strives to make a positive impact is by reducing our operational carbon footprint. We used eco-friendly products to construct our schools: recovered glass, homasote, certified wood from sustainable harvests, solar-powered sinks, flooring from recycled rubber tires, and metal shelving from 100 percent postindustrial waste. Our facility includes a state-of-the art science lab, hydroponic lab, living vegetation wall in the cafeteria, 8,000-square foot terrace for urban farming, and chicken coop. What’s new?  

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Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. We have an outstanding elementary arts program. Upper elementary produces a musical every year. Our visual arts program features a variety of art forms, including ceramics, woodworking, and three-dimensional sculpture. Violin instruction begins in kindergarten. Our school has been a member of the Black Rock Forest consortium since 2005, and we send our children to the forest in Cornwall, NY, every week for nature, science, and outdoor activities. We have a 6th grade ex-missions program which offers in-depth and individualized support to graduates and families, helping them to identify ongoing schools that will meet their needs. What’s new? As we look forward to celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2014-2015, we are enjoying the largest lower elementary enrollment ever. We are proud of the diversity in our school. This year, 40 percent of our families identify themselves as African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, multiracial, or Pacific Islander. More than 30 percent of our faculty and staff identify themselves in these ways. Our school also enrolls many international families, with more than 25 countries represented. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? Our children are happy to come to school where teachers love and mentor them. The teachers are enthusiastic and adjust their teaching to meet the needs and abilities of each child—no squeezing a square peg into a round hole, but rather respecting the individuality of each child and challenging or supporting them in the learning process. With inspirational teachers and engaged families, I know that my school makes a difference in the lives of children. I am challenged to continue to meet the evolving knowledge of how

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student’s individual needs rather than policies. Our teaching staff is committed and operates in ways that will result in the most success. Treating each person as an individual and giving them freedom to work is a challenge, yet we believe in this core practice.

Metropolitan Montessori is based on the educational philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori and offers challenging academics in a nurturing and compassionate environment. Our program develops children academically, socially, and emotionally by building resilience, independence, responsibility, self-motivation, and respect for others. Our graduates attend highly selective New York City public and independent schools.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy.

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The City University of New York congratulates

The 2013 Blackboard Award Winners NOVEMBER 18, 2013






Is your child struggling with school? We can help.

Winston Preparatory Schools For students with learning disabilities.

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Congratulations to the winners of the Blackboard Awards. We appreciate your commitment to providing a high-quality public education for all our children, more than words can say...

continued from page 28


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Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. PS 59 is a vibrant learning community that inspires and challenges all of its members to be kind, considerate, inclusive, hard-working, curious, and responsible citizens. We are dedicated to embracing our beautifully diverse learners for all of their gifts and talents.

What’s new? We finally have the building of our dreams. We are now housed in one of the newest school buildings in New York City. We are thoroughly


Andrew Schwartz

Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. In a time of intense and competing demands, we are holding tight to our commitment to a rich and well-rounded arts and enrichment program to complement our rigorous academics. In addition to our core music and studio arts programs, we have partnerships with extraordinary cultural arts partners. Through the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program, for example, the full orchestra has actually has performed our fifth graders’ compositions. We dance with New York City Center and Arts Connection. Our students perform Shakespeare with teaching artists from Creative Stages. Just last week our kids were scatting along in our auditorium with an ensemble from Jazz at Lincoln Center.


Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. At PS 527, we believe in educating the whole child and preparing our students for success in a new and complex world. A Global Studiesthemed approach exposes children to different cultures, heritages, and ways of life. We also pride ourselves

on our inclusive culture with special education students learning alongside their general education peers. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. We are especially proud of our parental involvement and outreach. In terms of communication, our website provides families with a wealth of information. Each week, teachers send home a class newsletter, and the principal and PTA send an email to keep parents abreast of important school news. We have established music and art instruction, as well as Spanish, chess, physical education, and social skills lessons—and partnered with 92nd Street Y, Asphalt Green, the Guggenheim Museum, Music for Many, and Art Farm in the City. What’s new? PS 527—The East Side School for Social Action—is especially proud of the origins of our school name and what we do to make sure we live up to its expectation. As students engage with their Global Studies-themed units, they learn about problems and challenges facing countless people— then do something about them through community service, making the world a better place. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? The aspect I love the most is how we are truly building a small community school that is personalized for every child. This helps to provide a real sense of ownership and pride to the families, and life-long connections amongst children and adults. I love being the principal because we are all working together to help children succeed and prepare for future education by building a foundation of academic and social success that children will carry with them to middle school and beyond. The biggest challenge we will face is sustaining the small, personal touch as we grow larger. I know we will ultimately be successful at this.


Andrew Schwartz

enjoying our gorgeous library, glittering auditorium, spacious rooftop playground, gym, music and art studios, and plenty of classroom space. Perhaps best of all, we have a newly invigorated science program that is turning our kids on to the wonders of the lab. The students’ excitement is palpable.      What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? I love that PS 59 is filled with staff who describe themselves as “teaching nerds.” They burn to create better and more flexible ways to inspire and motivate kids. They coach them toward becoming determined, persistent and confident learners who know that their words and actions can make the world a better place. The sight on 56th Street each morning makes my heart soar: students positively run down the block—often straight into each other’s arms. They can’t wait to get started on their day. Like all schools, we are confronted with the challenge posed by high-stakes testing. So we’ve learned to create classrooms that are flexible enough to accommodate the needs of all of our learners.

children learn and what skills they will need to be successful in the future.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Quest to Learn empowers and engages students by connecting rigorous learning through innovation. Quest transforms the underlying form of games into a powerful pedagogical model. Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. The Quest to Learn curriculum is cocreated by our teachers with game designers and curriculum specialists. Our science classes are spectacular, allowing students to solve real world, authentic and complex problems. Our Math Olympiad team has won first place in the city three years in a row. We offer early regents courses to our 8th graders with a pass rate of approximately 97 percent. What’s new? Quest to Learn has an established middle school and has started to build our upper school. We are extremely proud of the rigor and innovation of our program design and the creativity and successes of our students and teachers. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? Quest to Learn has an energy that is unlike any school we have been a part of. The amazing faculty cares deeply and ensures that all students are receiving the high quality education that they deserve, as well as creates experiences that ignite their creativity and passion for learning. Ours is a community of educators, families, and students united with a

AWARD: SPECIAL EDUCATION continued on page 32

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Andrew Schwartz


Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Our mission is to foster educated, responsible, humanistic young leaders who will spark a “renaissance” in New York. Right away, our students are immersed in the arts and foreign language. We value the social-emotional well-being of our students as deeply as we do their preparedness for college and careers. We embrace all students, including students with special needs and those who are English language learners, and provide them with a progressive, rigorous, respectful, and happy learning environment. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. The College Bound program, Rensizzle Enrichment Week, Reading Support program, Global/Humanities course of study in middle and high school, Teens for Racial and Ethnic

What’s new? Renaissance High School earned a spot in the Daily News’ Top City High Schools and was awarded a best practice dissemination grant for our Global Humanities program. Renaissance will be working to improve physical, health, and nutrition education through a federal Carol M. White PEP grant. One of our many exciting partnerships includes a cohort of young women working with Sadie Nash. Recently, we became our own School Food Authority and are providing a top-notch food program to all our students. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? Our school is 20 years old, and we have never become complacent. While we celebrate our achievements, we always strive to do better. Our biggest challenges are working toward meeting the new, more rigorous testing standards without sacrificing our values to provide a holistic and humanistic education for all students; we know that graduates are more likely to be successful if their education is well-rounded and provides them with the desire to be life-long learners and leaders. The education we provide must also enable our children to meet the demands of the global environment they are inheriting. Keeping pace with these changes is not an easy task, but it is one we fully embrace.

THE SAUL AND CAROLE ZABAR NURSERY SCHOOL AT THE JCC IN MANHATTAN PRINCIPAL: NOAH MENCOW HICHENBERG AGES 2-5 334 AMSTERDAM AVENUE JCCMANHATTAN.ORG/ NURSERY-SCHOOL AWARD: OUTSTANDING NURSERY SCHOOL Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. We are a progressive, play-based, and values-centered environment. We believe in eyes-, ears-, mouths-, and bellies-on learning. Our children

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for a society that is continuously working to improve the conditions of its members. We have the unique privilege of creating an environment in which our children grapple with values and develop identities that allow them to see themselves as change agents in the world. We advocate for our children to create and shape the world they will inherit.


engage in lengthy periods of openended exploratory play every day. Our values are informed by our Jewish identity and accessed through stories, traditions, and celebrations. We provide space for children to develop their own theories of the world. We strive to create lifelong learners who know that intelligence and knowledge are built through hard work, sustained effort, trying new things, and reflecting on mistakes. Our students make bold attempts at challenging tasks and learn from their bumps along the way. Tell us about a distinguishing program. Each day, our teachers prepare a Daily Reflection that is emailed home to our families. These reflections highlight a wondrous moment of learning and growth in the classroom. Teachers are able to go into the “why” and “how” behind the “what” of our curriculum, and parents use these emails as a helpful conversation starter with their child in the evening. What’s new? This year, we have increased our emphasis on professional development. We have created a series of speakers and panels to help us grow in our capacity to support children with different learning styles and paces. Additionally, we are initiating a new, homegrown strand of professional development termed “peer learning cycle,” in which our teachers regularly observe each other at work in their classrooms and share critical reflections afterward. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? At The JCC, everybody feels at home. Our families engage with each other in evening study groups, morning coffee talks, weekend trips, and afternoon play dates. The impact that we have on each other is felt far beyond the walls of our classrooms and extends into all corners of our lives. As a school director and educator, my primary function is to advocate for a better future,


Andrew Schwartz


Awakening, and our Arts majors— these are just some of our programs that make us so proud of our school. We are actively developing our Advanced Placement program. We have a vibrant partnership with 82nd Street Education, a communitybased organization that provides a comprehensive afterschool program to middle and high school students.

Stomping Ground Photo

common goal of building a school that allows students to experiment, problem solve, and develop their voices. The energy and commitment of this community makes it an amazing place to be everyday. We ask teachers to teach in ways that are exciting, but also challenging and often unfamiliar, requiring them to dramatically shift their practice. As we grow, it is essential that we continue to attract and hire the very best educators, because they are what make Quest a remarkable school.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Scholars’ Academy is an accelerated grades 6-12 NYC public school that leverages technology and human capital in a structured manner to enhance student and adult learning. Students work in “scale-up teams” of three in every subject, where they solve problems, deconstruct or analyze texts, or perform experiments. Teachers flip instruction using screencasts and videos to enhance student learning, while students leverage iPads, laptops, and desktop computers to access information, collaborate on projects in the cloud, and complete online courses. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. As an accelerated school, middle school students complete three high school courses by the end of Grade 8. High school students complete up to twenty college credits by 12th grade. Our marching band has received many awards, and numerous Scholars’ artists have work featured in several New York City museums. The school founded a local middle school basketcontinued on page 34

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What do you love about your school? I’ve visited countless classrooms in numerous schools over the years, and I can confidently and fairly state, with no insult to any other schools, that the Scholars’ Academy culture is the best I’ve seen. It’s energetic, positive, warm, collaborative, intelligent, hard working, and funloving. That’s what makes every staff member, student, and especially this principal look forward to going to school each and every morning. Leading in this environment is as great as it gets.


Karen Haberberg Photography


Describe your school’s core educational philosophy.

Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. We offer science five days a week, starting in kindergarten. Our program is hands-on and discovery-based, and our scholars conduct their own experiments. They use the scientific method to investigate topics in life science, physical science, and earth science. We also offer special classes during the school day—visual arts, sports, or chess—which allow scholars to explore a variety of talents. What’s new? Several of our scholars just participated in a Success Academy Chess tournament against ten other SA schools and tied for fifth place (even against our middle schools)! Two of our 3rd graders came away with wins, and one went undefeated! What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? I am so proud of what our scholars have achieved. This is all thanks to the incredible school community created by our dedicated staff and supportive families. I look forward to reaching new heights and cultivating our special community even further through the rest of the school year. As the principal of Upper West, I get to be the leader of a diverse and exceptional group of scholars, parents, and staff members. We truly value teamwork, perseverance, and excellence every day! As our school grows, we will work hard to maintain our close-knit community by learning from each other and doing whatever it takes for our scholars to achieve.


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I love the energy and the bustle of students coming to school eager to learn and dedicated teachers willing to teach. I love hearing students discuss text in the classrooms and show respect and gratefulness to their teachers. I love being the principal of TAG because at a school with a diverse population of students and staff members from most of the boroughs of NYC, I am able to promote and sustain a culture of respect and caring where every student feels valued. Our biggest challenge is to be better than we were last year, better than last month, better than last week, and better than yesterday.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. Our core educational philosophical belief is that with hard work, perseverance, and support, all students enjoy learning and growing academically and socially. Students learn through the shared inquiry process, which helps them to build on each other’s ideas. Through this shared inquiry process, civil discourse is learned and the ability to listen, speak and write is strengthened. Consistent and supportive professional development for staff is also at the core of our educational philosophy. This is directly correlated to the success of our students


Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. Along with a rigorous academic curricula, TAG offers a variety of enrichment programs during the day such as Latin, visual art, music, and technology (where students learn from keyboarding skills, Power Point, Prezi, and Scratch). TAG offers afterschool programs that include robotics, TAG News Broadcast club, glee/drama, Latin jazz band, wind ensemble, flag football, volleyball, and the Harvard Enrichment Program. What’s new? Based on the results on the Common Core Examinations, TAG was identified a one of the top 22 highest performing schools in the State of New York. As a result, in September 2013, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott hosted a press conference at the school to acknowledge and congratulate the TAG Staff, students, parents, and administrators on the outstanding achievements. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges?


Stomping Ground Photo

What’s new? Scholars’ Academy most recently weathered the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Over 60 percent of our students and more than 1/3 of the staff were rendered homeless or dislocated. Through all of the turmoil, the staff, students, and parents rallied and hung together. Fewer than 40 out of 1,250 students were lost from the enrollment of Scholars’ Academy as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Even more impressive, the school earned “A” Progress Report ratings for both its middle school and high school components, and the high school graduating class of 2013 posted a 100 percent graduation rate.

As a network of charter schools, we have the freedom to be innovative and creative in our instructional approach. Our schools are free public schools open to all students, but charter schools are given more autonomy than zoned public schools in exchange for greater accountability. This flexibility allows us to provide instruction that both supports and challenges all scholars. At SA Upper West, we prepare scholars to graduate from highly selective colleges, and college is a hallmark of our school culture. Exploration, creativity, and curiosity abound in our classrooms and inspire a love of learning.

Tashween Ali

ball league, and the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams have racked up several New York City Championship banners! To fulfill their service requirements, students pitch in at beach and park cleanups, volunteer at senior centers, and tutor their peers.

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. The Village Preschool Center creates a joyous, nurturing atmosphere for preschool children. In this cheery setting, we introduce our students to serious academic concepts at an early age. We want our children to have only the warmest feelings associated with the words “school” and “teacher.” To this end, we maintain a five-toone student to teacher ratio so that there is always a teacher to work with each child. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. For more than 30 years our daily French program has introduced preschoolers to a foreign language

and to the realization that there are many ways for people to communicate. Similarly, our daily music program plants the seeds of a lifetime of joy through music. The science program piques the interest of our little researchers in things scientific. We make learning to read great fun. Our object is not simply reading for its own sake, but also creating a love of reading and books in every child. Our children go to kindergarten with a thorough foundation for reading readiness. What’s new? We have begun a new scholarship fund to assure that family finances never prevent qualified children from enjoying the benefits of preschool education. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? Our first love is the children. We work with such delightful little people, and it is a privilege to give them a great base from which their cognitive life can develop rapidly and surely, their social and emotional intelligence can thrive, and their individuality and natural creativity can unfold and assert itself. Our challenge is the same that all New York City preschools face: the limited number of seats in ongoing schools for highly qualified candidates.


Stomping Ground Photo


Describe your school’s core educational philosophy. West Side Collaborative nurtures the whole child, challenging students to develop into inquisitive,

thoughtful individuals who can make meaningful choices and value their personal and academic growth. The curriculum builds student independence, nurtures creativity and challenges students to think critically, and analytically. Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs. We are the first recipients of the Elizabeth Rohatyn Award for School Innovation. As an iZone 360 Ambassador School, we provide workshops showing how creative scheduling and staffing can enhance personalized learning. As a Whitney Museum focus school, we collaborate on interdisciplinary arts projects. We are a technology-rich environment that balances blended learning experiences with other pedagogical models, enabling our students to become informed users and creators of digital media. Our school offers immersion weeks, such as iConnect and iInquire, providing in-depth learning in a focus area. What’s new? We are excited to have our 8th grade humanities course, Connections, be certified as a New York City Middle School High School Preparatory course. Our growing Thursday afterschool arts program with Studio-in-a-School, developed by our Parent Association, received a city council grant for the second year. Our debate club competes in the New York City Urban Debate League. This year we are also recipients of a City Council Reso A grant to enhance our technology resources. What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges? Each day, our students bring humor, curiosity, and a genuine caring for each other. I’m continually impressed by their creativity and openness, concern for friends, solutions to problems, performances, and conversations that help us understand the challenges of adolescence. In addition, working alongside thoughtful, creative and intellectual colleagues adds to my experience as leader. We keep our focus on children, their families, and how we can best build each individual’s skills and talents while weaving together our community. One of the greatest challenges is how to continue to work in this personalized and creative way in an increasingly bureaucratic educational system.



Winter is a great time for kids to explore the wonders of science. SciTech Kids sparks a child’s innate curiosity and creativity about science through rich, hands-on, captivating experiences. Whether an Explorer (3-5) Adventurer (ages 6-8) or Investigator (ages 9-12) SciTech Kids inspires kids to think like scientists.

To register call 212.804.7055 or

BUDDING SCIENTISTS ENJOY THEMES INCLUDING: • Human body • Earth & Space • Energy & Motion • Living Organisms • How Stuff Works • Light & Sound • Air & Water • Electronics AND MORE

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Educator Jenifer Fox Guides Parents And Teachers In Helping Students Harness The Power Of Their Natural Strengths

How did you first implement your Strengths Movement philosophy in a school? I started it in a girls’ boarding school in New Jersey [the Purnell School], and the girls at that time were struggling. They’d been told their whole lives that they weren’t good enough. We had to find a way to actually help them understand what was good about themselves so they could build on it. And I wanted there to be a whole curriculum on that, not just a sort of sappy self-esteembuilding [exercise]… I wrote 100 lesson plans that help people see who they are, help them project into the future how they see themselves as an adult, [and teach them] how to get there. How did parents and teachers initially receive your method? When I first implemented it, the parents and students loved it, loved it, loved it. The teachers got it, but they didn’t really start loving it until it started to apply to them. So, I created a whole teacher evaluation system that was [also] strengthbased.

strengths-focused ideas to schools and students across the country— and even some in Armenia. These days, she continues to devote her time to giving workshops and speaking with educators about how to best teach children by focusing on what they naturally do best. We caught up with Fox for more about this strategy and for her thoughts on the state of education today.

Why did teachers have a tougher time accepting it? I think teachers are taught to believe that it’s their responsibility to have every student pass everything… But what happens is that teachers spend a lot of time on the kids who aren’t quite getting it—oftentimes to the exclusion kids who are just kind of getting it or kids who are just loving it. They figure: ‘Well, they already have it, so they don’t need me.’ Yet the people who are actually going to probably take that subject and make their lives out of it are the people who are excelling at it.

Why do you think schools spend so much time focusing on children’s weaknesses? Schools traditionally have believed that kids will advance when they really focus on remediating what they can’t do, and so our systems are set up as such…What I’ve observed over 25 years is that when

What advice do you have for parents whose kids may not excel in the areas they believe are most important? Parents need to really take their children for who they are, and the messages they need to give them should be around fulfillment over achievement. I think parents

By Anna Sims Having spent decades in the classroom as both a teacher and administrator, Jenifer Fox could see that the current education system was flawed. And that problem wasn’t money, test scores, or any of the usual suspects—at least not directly. Schools were spending too much time focusing on children’s academic shortcomings, she realized, and not enough time nurturing their passions and developing their strengths. And so began her Strengths Movement, a philosophy that Fox employs to “help young people discover what their greatest contribution to life is going to be.” In 2008, she released a book, Your Child’s Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them, and has since introduced the core of her

you change the focus—instead of [focusing] on remediation and focusing on what they “can’t do,” —[and] start to spend more time on what they’re really into and love doing, they will often be able to be better at the things they “can’t do” because their energy, time, and focus is more devoted to things that make them engaged in learning.

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substitute those words by accident. They think they want their children to achieve, [but] really what they want their children to do is be fulfilled. Why do parents accidentally confuse “fulfillment” and “achievement”? What [many parents] fail to realize is that much of the unhappiness in the world for adults—people who become workaholics or divorced or depressed—doesn’t come from the fact that [people] didn’t get a high SAT score. They don’t come from the fact that they don’t have highpaying jobs. They come from the fact that there’s a lack of meaning and purpose in people’s lives. What should parents and teachers do if a child’s weakness is a basic skill like reading or math? I think it’s the teacher and parent’s obligation to figure out a way to conceptualize those things that the child isn’t drawn to or [doesn’t] have a natural ability in and help them make sense of [them]... Why do you need to learn math? The answer shouldn’t be to get into college. That’s not a good answer. What can parents do to help kids discover their strengths? I think parents over-schedule their kids... Kids need a little bit more creative play time and downtime, when they’re not having to be constantly stimulated by an outside rule-based activity, when their imaginations can let them sort of discover the world in front of them What would you say to those worried that your approach is too “soft?” During the ‘80s, we had a huge self-esteem movement [that] ended up praising kids for everything. Everyone gets an award; everyone’s work gets to be told how good it is. And what that does is it waters down quality, obviously. It doesn’t improve self-esteem because people know when they’ve done good work and when they haven’t. Some people hear what I’m saying as that, but that’s not [it]. What I’m saying is that when you find something that you love to do, that energizes you, that makes you excited, you’re going to stay doing it longer, you’re going to try harder, and you’re going to become better at it… We don’t need a world full of a lot of people who have gone from bad to average. We need people who’ve gone from average to exceptional.

Calling all kids ages 4 and up… We’ve got your game, so start playing now! Announcing junior tennis at Hunter College, Avenues School and Columbia Prep. Advantage offers expert instruction, individual attention and plenty of fun! Players ages 4 to 10 love QuickStart (QS) – our customized tennis program with smaller-sized courts and racquets plus slower-bouncing balls. Boys and girls learn age- and stage-appropriate skills, advancing as they’re ready. Players 11 and older benefit from our Junior Programs (JP) – improving their game and working on competitive play.

First class is FREE for new students! Select your programs and locations! Location




Columbia Prep


Hunter College


Both QS & JP are also available at: Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club Roosevelt Island Racquet Club New York Tennis Club

Sign up today! QuickStart – contact Gabe Slotnick at 212-594-0554 or Or visit Junior Programs – for more information – contact Xavier Luna at

Avenues School Gym 259 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10001

Columbia Prep School Gym 4 W. 93rd St., New York, NY 10025

Hunter College Lexington Ave. & 68th St. New York, NY 10065

Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club 450 W. 43rd St. New York, NY 10036

New York Tennis Club 3081 Harding Ave., Bronx, NY 10465

Roosevelt Island Sports Park Gym Immediately adjacent to Roosevelt Island Racquet Club

Find us at Hunter! Use the Hunter West entrance at 68th and Lexington. Take the escalators on your left down to level B2. Turn right by the locker room, then take the first available left. Take the elevator to level B4 (or take the stairs down 2 flights), go left, and follow the stairwell to lower gym B4.


At Avenues, we make STEAM by adding A for Art to the acronym, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). We located our art studios on the same hall as our labs, to help produce scientists with a passion for art as well as artists who are inspired by the physical world. To learn more about Avenues and fall 2014 admissions, please visit, or call 646.664.0800.


New York Family Education Guide 2013  
New York Family Education Guide 2013  

NEW YORK FAMILY’s Ultimate Guide to Education is an annual publication designed to offer local parents the latest news and resources pertain...