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Parents guide to finding the best NYC public school

Yvonne Delaney Mitchell | 6/13/2013, 3:56 p.m.

As the month of May moves merrily along and Memorial Day is upon us, it won't be long before school is out. This leaves many parents scrambling for placement if they are looking for a good school for their youngster next September. Regardless of the age or grade, finding such a school in New York City is a nightmare.

As part of a recent research project on New York City public schools, I had the opportunity to tour several schools, primarily in District 3. It seems as though the better the neighborhood, the better the school is in terms of financial resources, smaller class sizes and teachers who don't say, "So, where you be going at?" (Sorry teachers, but I've heard it said on more than one occasion. That's not to say that you are not a good teacher, but you just can't talk like that with children around--not if you want them to grow up, go to college and get a good job.)

Basically, the best thing going are the District 3 schools. District 3 generally runs below 110th Street from the West Side over to Central Park, give or take a block or two. The rule of thumb is a child in fifth grade or below has to attend his or her zoned school, and we uptown folks are in District 5 (that is Central Harlem, and you know where those boundaries lie). You can, however, generally gain admittance into another school if you go to the school and ask nicely. Beware though, because even if you do ask nicely, you can forget about any school below 96th Street, because overcrowding is at crisis levels.

The magnet schools, defined as schools that receive funding from the state as opposed to from the city, have a unique academic curriculum that focuses on themes. One such school is the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School, located on West 112th Street, run by Principal Jane Murphy. Here, creativity is encouraged and used as a means of problem-solving and learning. From its Lego Lab to teaching awareness of the child's mind, body and spirit, the school partners with other educational institutions such as Bank Street, Parsons School for Design and Tufts University to provide a well-rounded education for the tots. The school is kindergarten through second grade, so soon after they get settled in, it's time to make that shift again.

There are eight magnet schools in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Meanwhile, P.S. 24, the Spuyten Duyvil School, located in Riverdale in the Bronx, is allotted $75,000 each school year from the district's politico (District 10) to assist in meeting the school's personal needs. This year, the district found an extra little "pot of gold," so that the school can get air conditioners. Imagine that.

Debra Cooper, who is running for City Council representing District 3, is a true believer in and supporter of public schools. In a speech about her findings and the problem of overcrowding, she expressed that she was appalled with the lack of initiative shown by the Board of Education in promoting equal education for all of New York City's children. A big problem that she sees is the warehousing of good, vital school buildings where, instead of promoting their use to ease overcrowding, the goal is to create more charter schools. Charter schools, she said, take away from public schools in more ways than one. I really can't get into the pros and cons of charter schools because I am admittedly not well-versed. For those caught in the web of what to do and where to go, all hope is not lost. Speak to the school's parent coordinator, the District 5 family advocate and other parents, and let's begin to think about forming our own schools (now that's a novel idea).