MANHATTAN — The biggest change coming this school year has already gotten a lot of attention: the de Blasio administration has promised there will be enough free "full day" pre-K seats for all of the city's 4-year-olds for the first time ever.
But besides this major expansion, the Department of Education has been busy over the past year and a half creating several new initiatives for the country's largest school system.
Here's what's on deck:
1. Muslim holidays and Lunar New Year are now days off.
Mayor Bill de Blasio followed through on his campaign promise to put these holidays officially on the school calendar.
With the addition of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the first three weeks of school have only three days each — forcing many parents to scramble for child care and teachers to worry about building momentum.
Following this first short week, there are two days off for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 14 – 15) and then Yom Kippur the next week (Sept. 23), followed by Eid (Sept. 24).
Then on Feb. 8, schools will be closed for Lunar New Year for the first time, making February seem even shorter as mid-winter recess is the following week.
2. Superintendents are back in control.
The Department of Education's overhauled support system, taking effect this school year, strengthens the roles of superintendents, giving them clear lines of authority and accountability and returning to a neighborhood-based chain of command.
Principals, once again, will report to local superintendents as opposed to the roughly 60 networks created under the Bloomberg administration that many parents felt were unresponsive to their concerns.
School watchdogs are hopeful the move will help families since they will now have a specific person — the district superintendent — to contact if they have concerns about their school or principal.
As part of the reorganization the DOE set up seven geographically based Borough Field Support Centers to make it easier for families to understand where to voice their complaints.
3. A new discipline code aims to change the way schools respond to disruptive behavior.
After complaints from social justice advocates condemning schools for creating a "schools-to-prison pipeline" — especially for black and Hispanic boys — the de Blasio administration changed the discipline code.
Now, principals must get approval from DOE headquarters before suspending a student who "defies authority" and the Police Department will have to report whenever they place students in handcuffs.
The DOE is also now requiring every school to have a "de-escalation plan" for violent or other disruptive situations that pose a threat and is increasing de-escalation training, as well as the number of guidance counselors at high-needs schools, officials said.
4. An increasing number of schools will show off what works and test new methods.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña's initiatives that focus on collaboration between schools are scaling up.
More than 100 schools will participate this year in Learning Partners Schools (where a host school shares best practices with two partner schools it's matched with) and Showcase Schools (where schools open their doors to visits from other educators to show off a specific area they're excelling in).
The DOE also is doubling the number of PROSE schools — or Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence — which means that more than 120 schools are creating programs that fall outside the Chancellor's Regulations or UFT contract.
These schools, all of which have staff buy-in, are doing such things as implementing longer school days, doing college prep lecture and seminar classes or hybrid courses that combine subjects like English and history, for example.
5. The opt out movement will likely continue growing.
Elsewhere in the state, roughly 20 percent of students opted out of state tests. While the numbers in the city were much lower, they grew, too. Roughly 2 percent of the 400,000 third through eighth graders sat out the tests. Those nearly 8,000 students were more than four times as many as those who opted out the year before.
De Blasio and Farina are trying to keep the numbers down in NYC, with Fariña saying, "I don't believe in opt out."
Yet as parents across the city have become increasingly angry over high-stakes testing and have gotten more organized, the movement here is likely to grow.
6. Community and Renewal Schools will face scrutiny.
Will de Blasio's plan to save roughly 130 of the city's struggling schools start seeing results?
Of these, roughly 94 failing schools have been branded "Renewal Schools" and will open this September as "Community Schools," meaning, for example, they will get extended support for students beyond the school day and add school health clinics — at a cost of nearly $400 million over the next three years, according to the Independent Budget Office.
The pricey program has already come under fire from pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY, whose analysis of state test scores found all Renewal and Community schools with grades three to eight had more than 75 percent of students fail the exams.
7. Mayoral control will still be an issue.
De Blasio lobbied Albany this year to make mayoral control of the city schools permanent.
Instead he got a one-year extension, which means the mayor will have to continue pleading his case in 2016.
Putting the mayor in charge of his own school system — rather than the decentralized Board of Education that Mayor Michael Bloomberg abolished — increases accountability, de Blasio said.
The pre-K expansion, for example, would never have happened otherwise, he claimed.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, did not embrace de Blasio's stance.
"Next year we can come back, and if he does a good job, then we can say he should have more control," Cuomo said in July.