LIFE IN THE MIDDLE
Maneuvering to get a good high school
"We've actually had parents fabricate doctors' notes," said Steve Redelick, a guidance counselor at JHS 217 in Jamaica. "The doctors say, 'We've never seen it. Where did you get this?' to the point where we now have to police it."
At JHS 217, the reality checks are done by guidance counselors and main office staff. It's a side effect of the high-stakes, high-pressure high school selection process, and at JHS 217 yesterday, students streamed into the guidance office all day for help on picking high schools.
Redelick said parents this year have already begun saying they've moved. The new address is often within the zone of the desired high school and often a relative's home.
At JHS 217, no address changes are recorded without official proof, such as an electric bill or bank statement.
"I've seen them try to give us a notarized letter saying they live somewhere," said guidance counselor Mark Pendola. "I'll give you a dollar if you're a notary public, and you'll say anything I want you to say."
One Department of Education official said parents don't even hide their tricks, calling with five and six addresses to see if it's "in the zone."
"They'll say 'Oh --. How about this address?'" said the official, who did not want to be named. "They're telling you they want Francis Lewis and they keep getting Hillcrest or they keep getting Jamaica. In a way, it's a sense of desperation."
Sometimes, parents will insist their children are "in charge" of caring for a sick relative so they must go to a nearby school. Psychological and health problems, such as motion sickness, can be hard to disprove. The same with big school panic attacks, a favorite weapon to get into a smaller school.
In the new selection process, students no longer automatically get into their zoned high school, but it's still considered the default school in some cases.
JHS 217 feeds into Hillcrest High School, which many students don't want, and Pendola said that's unfortunate. "Hillcrest is getting better every year," he said.
"Now kids are coming back and they say they like it."
Many understand why parents play games. A high school's name can be the deal breaker when applying to college.
"They just want the best for their kids, so I don't think it's such a big deal," said Roshni D'Sousa, who is trying to get into Benjamin Cardozo High School and hopes to study law. "I'm going to get my grades up. That's the best way."
Robin Brown, head of the United Parent Associations of New York City, said it's harder than ever for parents to stack the high school cards for their children.
"You have to be the first advocate for your child," she said. "If they find a school they want, they really need to start lobbying the principal at that school. Don't put any school on that application that you can't live with."