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How many students apply to each NYC school, how many get in, and where do they come from? We could soon find out

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

The city Department of Education may soon be required to collect more information about admissions and enrollment, and produce an annual report that could highlight the need for more school seats in specific neighborhoods.

Proposed legislation, spearheaded by Manhattan City Councilman Ben Kallos and discussed Tuesday at a City Council committee hearing, would provide school-level information about the number of applications received versus the number of students admitted. It would also include the number of seats expected to be available at each school the following year. The information would be broken down by grade level, and by applicants’ school districts and zip codes.

While some of that information is already publicly available, Kallos wants to gather more details and make it available in a single report.

He also hopes to expand the bill to include information about Pre-K for All applications to help reveal what he sees as unmet need. Kallos said that 54 percent of families who applied for pre-K on the Upper East Side, part of his district, were not offered seats in their zip code in 2015.

“The Mayor’s promise of ‘Pre-Kindergarten for All’ must include enough seats in every neighborhood,” Kallos said in a statement. “Parents in my district are giving up on our public schools and with it our government, and parents who can’t afford private school are being forced out.”

The proposal could also help efforts to create more diverse schools by tracking which students leave their neighborhoods to attend schools — and which students are being turned away.

“When we’re siting and developing new schools, that is a strong opportunity to right the wrongs of segregation in this city,” said Councilman Brad Lander. “That has happened some … but we have to do a little better.”

Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children, said the legislation should be expanded to track where students with accessibility needs apply and are accepted to schools. She cited a Department of Justice finding that 83 percent of city elementary schools are not fully accessible to students with mobility limitations. The city is already working to provide more information about accessibility at high schools, where only 13 percent of buildings are fully accessible.

“It is vital that you ensure there are accessible school options across the city for students, teachers and family members with mobility, hearing and vision needs,” she said in a prepared statement.

Students from the debate team at M.S. 442 in Brooklyn’s District 15 attended Tuesday’s hearing to share how jam-packed schools have impacted their education, citing noisy hallways and time taken away from teaching to rearrange classroom furniture.

District 15 is one of the most overcrowded in the district, according to a City Council report. Eighth-grader Ashley Salcedo recalled how her elementary school teacher would have to put lessons on hold to make space for everyone to sit together on a classroom rug.

“Overall, I wanted to get across that overcrowding takes away from a kid’s learning,” she said.

Scared of robots? Here’s how one Detroit science teacher helps students deal with complex machines and instability at home.

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Maxine Kennebrew, science and robotics teacher at Denby High School in Detroit, previously worked with robots at auto plants in the city.

Before she became a teacher, Maxine Kennebrew’s days were measured in hard numbers.

I could say, ‘Okay this was a good day, we ran 1,000 engines today,” said Kennebrew, who formerly was a systems engineer for a Detroit automaker. “It was very tangible what I was accomplishing. In teaching, you can’t always measure what you accomplish, but you can feel it. The end of my day usually feels a lot better than it did.”

Now she’s combining her skill sets as Denby’s new robotics teacher, guiding students through a certification program that the district sees  as a step toward training students for careers. Last month, FANUC, a manufacturer that supplies robots to the Detroit auto industry, donated eight robots to high schools in the Detroit district, including Denby High School, where she teaches science.

The armed-shaped devices delivered to Denby two weeks ago can be programmed to automatically carry out a huge array of tasks like handling food or sorting pills.

“These were everywhere” at the manufacturing facilities where she used to work, Kennebrew said, adding that she hopes the class will help students find jobs with good pay.


“The cool thing about this robot is that it can record your motion and do it again,” said Alantis Clayton, a junior at Denby. “It’s like training a pet to do something.”

Kennebrew started at Denby as a long-term substitute teacher six years ago, when the school was part of a state-run recovery district. She went on to become a certified chemistry, physics, and now robotics teacher.

Our conversation with her started with robots, then branched off into forensic science and the challenges her students face at home. The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Alantis Clayton, a junior at Denby High School in Detroit, practices picking up sections of pipe with a recently donated industrial-grade robot.

What’s the hardest thing about basic robotics?

At Chrysler, I trained older autoworkers to use new robots. They were scared of the machines, they were scared to touch them. They had to learn to interact with them, to do cooperative work with the robots. My first day with the students in class felt very similar. They would all point to what they needed the robot to do, but no one wanted to press the button.

Tell us about a favorite lesson to teach. Talk about chemistry if you’d like — you’ve been teaching robotics for less than a month!

My students have not had consistent science instruction. I don’t think they had a science teacher last year. My entire goal is to make them understand what science is and to make it fun, so they want to come to class. So I’ve arranged for lectures for them from people who use chemistry in their daily lives

The first one was with the state police forensics department, and they were amazing.

I was so proud of these students. The detective said it was his favorite class. He had 54 slides, and he never left the first one because they asked so many questions.

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class?

Stability. I don’t think adults realize how much instability affects the students. When you hear talks of school closures, talks of a business closure if their parents work there.

I feel like there’s always worry in their brains, and it’s hard to get them to be normal students, because you want to acknowledge what they’re going through but you don’t want it to stop them from growing and learning.

It’s hard to say for the next 90 minutes, ‘Ignore what’s going on outside of here, ignore the worries you have.’ It’s hard to place such a high importance on being in class when you know what they’re going through.

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Cheyanne Robinson, a junior at Denby High School, practices with a robotic arm donated by the manufacturer FANUC.

What part of your job is most difficult?

I always went to really good schools, and it’s hard to stand in front of the students and put on a happy face when you know things aren’t fair. It’s hard to do.

I try to be as real with them as possible. Things aren’t fair, but we’re not going to let it stop us from achieving what we can achieve.

I’ve borrowed materials from anyone who will loan them — the Detroit Children’s Museum, the Science Center.

I don’t want them to think that because it’s not here in front of you there’s not a way to get it done.

Do the new robots help that feeling at all?

The new robots did make me feel better. I want my students to feel special but I also want them to feel normal, that they go to school and that is what’s there because it is supposed to be there. They should have an AutoCAD  lab and a coding lab and a robotics lab. They should have electives to choose from. It makes me feel better because there are kids on a waiting list to get into the class, who come by my room and ask if I have space for them. But I’m still angry because it is not the normal — yet.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?

That I can only control what’s inside of my classroom and make sure my classroom is an amazing place.

enrollment challenges

South Side parents: ‘We’re struggling with high schools’

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Nearly 100 residents, educators and school district leaders convened Nov. 19, 2018, at Thomas Kelly High School in Chicago to discuss their school needs.

Cristina Hernandez is a big proponent of public education: She graduated from Jose Orozco Clemente Community Academy in Pilsen. Now she has three children in Chicago Public Schools, the oldest a seventh grader.

But she isn’t planning to send them to neighboring Kelly High School, rated a Level 2, the second-lowest on Chicago schools’ five-tier rankings.

“We’re struggling with high schools. Unless you score into a selective-enrollment school or you are lucky enough to get in a charter school,” students end up at their neighborhood high school, said Hernandez, who is chair of the Local School Council at James Ward Elementary School.

That’s why some South Side parents have been pushing the district to open a new high school in the South Loop. But that has created its own controversy: The site would displace more than 700 students at the top-rated National Teachers Academy, and likely pull students from neighborhood schools like Kelly.

The question of enrollment in neighborhood schools — and the forces pushing South Side students to attend schools elsewhere — dominated a forum Monday exploring ways to put top-rated schools and programs within reach of all Chicago students.

Parents and other speakers called for more resources for neighborhood schools to stem the tide of students fleeing South Side elementary and high schools.

Nearly 100 residents, educators and school district leaders convened Monday at Thomas Kelly High School to raise questions and discuss findings of a districtwide report on enrollment trends, school quality, parent choice and program offerings.

Students in the area, which after the Greater Stony Island Region has the city’s second-highest number of students attending high schools elsewhere, soon will have the option to attend a new South Loop high school, which could further shrink the local high school’s attendance boundaries and enrollment.

Discussing the report, known as the Annual Regional Analysis, offers communities a chance to comment on academic changes they’d like to see in their region. Meetings around town have spurred conversations about school quality, barriers to education equity — and fears of painful decisions to come amid rapidly shrinking enrollment. The school district presented hard numbers behind the problematic trend of shrinking neighborhood schools.

Parents and community members spoke to the difficulty of finding desirable high school options.

Why does the region have no Level 1 or Level 1-plus high schools, parents asked, noting the dearth prompts families to seek schools elsewhere.

The region includes the Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Brighton Park, and Armour Square neighborhoods.

Last year, when the data was collected, the area had 21,741 students at 33 schools. Three-quarters of the students were Latino, while 14 percent were Asian.

According to the report, 87 percent of elementary students in the area attend school in the region, compared with 60 percent at the district level.

But those proportions change dramatically in high school. Only 41 percent of high school students stay in the region, compared with 55 percent districtwide. Almost 1,000 students from what the report labels the Greater Stockyards region go to selective enrollment schools outside the area.

A new high school for the South Loop, slated to open next school year, would also draw from the South Side, possibly exacerbating the drain of students to newer, better equipped schools outside the area. It would also shrink the attendance boundary of the area’s Tilden High School.

The report’s Greater Stockyards designation encompasses Back of the Yards High School, a Level 1-plus school; Kelly High School, which is Level 2; and Tilden, which is Level 2. The area also has one charter and one options high school. 

“Right now, we have more schools in our district than we did when we had almost 100,000 more students,” said Chief Education Officer LaTanya D. McDade at the hearing. “How do we deal with the decrease in enrollment?”

She also said the meetings were not connected to any plans for school closings, which have been one way Chicago has dealt with under-enrolled schools in minority neighborhoods. “We want to make sure that your voice is heard within your community.”

Hernandez would like to see investments that would boost the rating of schools in the area.

“Be more equitable. I don’t understand why we have so many Level 1 elementary schools but we have to look outside for a good high school for our kids. I don’t see that as fair,” Hernandez said.

Many Chinese-American parents in the area, meanwhile, opt to place their children in private schools because they offer more Chinese language options, community member Debbie Liu said.

Liu, who works with the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, attended Healy Elementary on the South Side for her first few years of school, until her parents moved her to a private school that offered better language instruction.

“A lot of new immigrants are finding comfort in going to a school where they know there is bilingual staff and teachers,” Liu said, which many schools in the area don’t offer for Cantonese or Mandarin speakers. “I think CPS is moving in the right direction to solve this disparity issue, but there is still a lot of work to do.”

The region’s struggle with gun violence also means that academic issues sometimes come secondary to dealing with trauma, said Cheryl Flores, director of community schools for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

“In our community students are suffering from trauma so we can’t begin to think about addressing academic issues until we can figure out how to best support them,” she said.

According to federal data from the 2015-16 school year, Chicago had fewer guidance counselors per student than many other big cities — 2.8 guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists for every 1,000 students.

Flores and other attendees Monday asked the school district to hire counselors who can deal with violence-related trauma, teachers who speak Chinese, and buildings that offer the latest in technology and facilities.

“If we were to invest in our schools and the facilities, I think CPS knows what works. We need supports for our diverse learners, high quality teachers for [English learners] and diverse learners, and we haven’t been doing that,” Flores said.