Congratulations! Now What?

An EEC Primer for Parents of Children Transitioning to a NYC Public School

Transitioning to a public school as a new student or a transfer student will mean an adjustment period for you and your children. It is an exciting time! If you’re armed with lots of information, you can ensure a smooth transition for you and your children. You will not be handed a guide on the first day of school explaining who is who and whom does what. Then one day, you will receive communication from a member of the school staff and you will ask yourself, “Who is this person and what is this person’s role?” The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is the largest school district in the United States, serving 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools. This link will bring you to an organizational chart explaining the DOE Leadership.  The purpose of this primer is to help you and your children experience a smooth transition to a NYC public school, to know who is who and what is what, and to learn some at-home strategies you can use to help facilitate a seamless transition.

Who’s Who in a NYC Public School?

*These roles are not listed in hierarchal order, nor order of importance.

School Secretary: The school secretary is often the first person you will encounter at your new school. He or she takes care of administrative duties, attendance, enrollment, immunization records, etc. At some schools, he or she is the person you will see to arrange to meet with the principal or the assistant principal. Large schools may have several secretaries, each one with different duties and some with crossover duties in the lunchroom and/or at recess. If you have an inquiry, be very specific about what you are asking and make a note of which secretary handles which duties. Be advised: school secretaries are the busiest at the beginning and end of the year and at the beginning and end of each day.

Classroom Teacher: You may get notice over the summer of your child’s teacher’s name and classroom, but you will not meet teachers until the first day of school at drop-off. This time of the morning is hectic for all and your teacher is tasked with lining the student up and getting them settled in. Some schools will allow students to be accompanied to the classroom for the first few days, but this is often not the case. Take time over the summer to prepare your child for this transition. Teachers use many of the books on this list to help kids on the first day of school.  Click here for suggestions. Be sure to find at least one that suits your child’s reading tastes.

Your child’s teacher(s) will be able to answer questions about academics and grades as well as behavioral, social, and emotional growth. Once enrolled, the teacher should be your first and primary point of contact. You should feel comfortable checking in regularly to help ensure your child’s success at school. Each school has it’s own way of handling communication (email, written notes, phone calls or a combination of all).

Parent Coordinator: Most schools have a parent coordinator who provides families with information about the school services and programs. He or she helps answer families’ questions and concerns and can arrange translations services. Some parent coordinators will send out weekly or monthly newsletters and coordinate workshops for families. If you are unable to resolve a concern with your child’s teacher, speak with your Parent Coordinator.

Assistant Principal: The assistant principal helps oversee the school programs, academics, student support, and discipline. Larger schools may have multiple assistant principals. If you are unable to resolve an issue with the Parent Coordinator, contact the Assistant Principal.

Principal: The school Principal leads and oversees all the school staff and students. If you have concerns that cannot be resolved through your child’s teachers, parent coordinator, or assistant principal, speak to the principal.

District or Borough Family Advocate: District Family Advocates support families with students in grades Pre-K-8 while Borough Advocates support families of high schoolers. If you have an issue you cannot solve at the school, contact your advocate. Find yours through this link.

Superintendents: District superintendents support families with students in Pre-K -8 and Borough Superintendents supports families with high schoolers. Find yours here.

School Social Worker: The school social worker helps parents, students, and school employees identify and address issues that interfere with students’ learning and work. He or she works with both general education and special education students to resolve social, emotional and behavioral issues.

School Psychologist: The role of school psychologist ranges from consultation to assessment to intervention. One of the primary responsibilities of the school psychologist is assessment. He or she assess students suspected of having a disability as part of the process of determining if the student needs services and what the services are to be. School psychologists are also trained to consult with teachers so as to help struggling students.

Guidance Counselor: Elementary, Middle, and High Schools will have at least one guidance counselor. Speak with the guidance counselor about your child’s academic schedule and classes as well as middle, high school and college and career planning.

Paraprofessional: The paraprofessional often referred to as a “para,” is the person who works alongside educators or therapists to provide students with IEPs and Section 504 Plans education services and accommodations that support learning. You might see paras working inside classrooms or assigned to just one student.

School Nurse: The school’s nurse responds to and cares for students’ medical needs at school. Speak with the nurse if your child requires medication or treatment during the school day.

Safety Agent: The school’s safety agent(s) is often the first adult you see upon entering the building. It is his or her job to ensure the safety of students and staff and to monitor and sign in visitors. They are members of the NYPD, but are not police officers and are not armed.

What’s What in NYC Public Schools?

*These events are not in order of sequence nor importance.

What our children are learning in school: While each school is unique, all schools will follow chosen programs through which they deliver the Common Core Standards to our children. In addition to a plethora of useful information like the DOE school calendar, the link below brings you to a guide that provides details about expectations for each grade. You can check the DOE website often or opt to sign up to receive email alerts so that you will have the most updated version of this guide as well as other important announcements.

What our children are not learning in school: While there is some variation, most NYC public elementary schools are not teaching handwriting, typing, foreign languages or computer skills. If learning these skills are important to your family, you may want to research your school in advance to see what “specials” your school offers and determine where you may want to supplement at home or outsource to a tutoring company.

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Conferences are held between two and four times a year. These meetings give you a chance to sit down with your child’s teachers and ask questions about how he or she is doing at school. It is critical you attend and if you are unable to meet at the pre-determined time, schedule the meeting for another time. Teachers are mandated to have about 40 minutes each week to be available to meet with parents. Write down your questions ahead of time as most conferences are timed. Be sure to meet with ALL of your child’s teachers so as to have a complete picture of how he/she is doing in school and how he/she spends her day. It is important to support your child in ALL subjects, including physical education and the arts.

This DOE guide can be useful to help you prepare.

Supplies: The DOE has a limited budget. In most cases, the DOE provides a school with a building, all the administration, staff and teachers. The parent body compensates for discrepancies in what is provided and what is needed. Mostly, monies are collected through fundraisers throughout the year. As for classroom supplies, your school will either post a list on the school website during the summer, you will be given a list on the first day of school, or your school will ask for a contribution toward bulk purchasing. If your school distributes supply lists, you may want to purchase supplies over the summer, when you can find items on sale and avoid the back-to-school rush.

Fire Drills, Lock-Downs, Evacuations and Shelter-Ins: Directly from the DOE Website:

A vital component of emergency readiness within the DOE is the School Safety Plan (SSP). As part of the Safety Plan, schools/campuses must identify individual staff members to become BRT members.  In campus settings, each school must have one representative on the BRT.  The BRT members are hand selected by the Principal(s) to manage all school-related emergencies until the first responders arrive.  In addition, all schools implement General Response Protocols (GRP), which outlines the initial actions to be taken if an incident results in an Evacuation, Shelter-In, or a Lockdown. These actions are based on the use of common language to initiate the measures all school communities will take in a variety of incidents.

All staff, and students receive training in the GRP and drills are conducted at various times throughout the school year. Lessons have been designed for different grade levels so that the information is delivered to students without causing unnecessary alarm.

Information on the GRP should be sent home to parents help guide conversations with their children about emergency readiness in schools. Click here for a summary of the General Response Protocol for staff and students.

Summer Checklist for Parents

  • Purchase books about transitioning to Pre-K or Kindergarten.
  • Make a note of your school’s schedule.
  • Become familiar with your school’s website.
  • Make sure your enrollment is complete.
  • Create a contact list of all the major players at your school and in your district.
  • Print and browse all of the DOE guides.
  • Print the School Calendar and sync it with your family calendar. Working parents beware: there are many ½ days and holidays for which you will need to make childcare arrangements.
  • Be prepared before school starts: create a schedule and practice your commute to school. 

First Week of School

  • While most schools will email communication, paper copies are still the norm. Be prepared for an enormous amount of paperwork to come home through your child’s backpack during the first two weeks of school.
  • Your individual school’s calendar will also come home during the first week of school with important dates for you to sync with your family calendar.
  • Create a system for papers to come in and go out. As children are usually expected to transport papers through their backpacks and then submit them to their teachers, you can help your child with this important skill by teaching him or her to unpack his or her backpack at home and where to place important papers.

Do You More Questions? Feel free to email me, Gina Rotundo, at  Happy Transitioning!