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Want to Find Out About High School Tours? Don't Count on City's Calendar

By  Carolina Pichardo and Amy Zimmer | November 16, 2016 8:37am 

 Students at a high school class at Scholars' Academy in Rockaway Park.
Students at a high school class at Scholars' Academy in Rockaway Park.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

MANHATTAN — The city’s school system is finally getting with the times — offering parents an online high school events calendar that parents can easily upload to their personal calendars — listing school tours, open houses and auditions.

But the calendar, which debuted last year, is riddled with missing information and inaccuracies, according to parents and the consultants who advise them on the high school admissions process.

The problem is that the calendar is dependent on school submissions — and only about 65 percent of high schools provided dates for the DOE’s online calendar this year, up from a mere 20 percent last year, school officials said. Many of the most coveted schools were nowhere to be found on the calendar.

In addition, many of the schools missed the city's July 14 submissions deadline, spurring the DOE to extend the deadline until September — after tours already began — as Chalkbeat initially reported at the start of the school year. And even after that deadline, the DOE has continued to update its calendar when new submissions come in, officials said.

“Having this clearinghouse from the DOE, this one-stop-shop is a great first start. There are so many parents who don’t have the time or ability to go on all the schools’ websites,” said Elissa Stein, who runs a service called High School 411, helping parents navigate the high school admissions process.

“But it muddied the waters more,” she said. “The challenge is that not all schools are participating [and] there’s no disclaimer on it to double-check with the schools you’re interested in, stating something like, if it’s not listed here, it doesn’t mean they’re not offering something.”

The website does say that families should confirm every event’s date and time with the school contact provided on or the school’s website. It does not, however, advise parents to check with schools that aren’t mentioned, nor does it alert families they should check back for updates.

Megan Moskop, guidance counselor for M.S. 324 in Washington Heights, has been talking up the events calendar to parents non-stop, adding the information to emails and handouts as well, she said.

But families told her the calendar is hard to use if you’re looking for certain schools, she said.

“There is a spreadsheet you can download to more easily search for specific schools, but it hasn't been updated,” Moskop said. “The way the admissions process works, with so many schools doing so many different things, centralizing the information is a real challenge.”

For example, one listing for an “information session” at the gifted school NEST+M on the Lower East Side — which was actually an open house held after school hours — made no mention that families need to sign up even though an RSVP was required, Stein said.

“If I’m confused,” said Stein — who has gone through the admissions process twice for her own kids and advises hundreds of other parents on it — “what about someone who’s never done this or English isn’t their first language or someone who doesn’t own a computer and is checking one for 15 minutes at a library?”

At Millennium High School in the Financial District — which Stein said was the most competitive tour to score a spot on the tour — the DOE calendar never listed tours added after the initial tours sold out.

At Stein’s children’s school, Brooklyn Tech in Fort Greene, Stein knew the elite school had listed 15 tours on its own website in August, yet the DOE’s website had no mention of the school tours.

“I had several parents email me, concerned that they’d called or emailed the contact person listed at a variety of schools about open houses and hadn’t heard back,” she added.

The bigger problem, Stein echoed, is the lack of a standardized process for schools when it comes to organizing tours and open houses, announcing them and managing reservations.

“Having the onus on schools to set everything up is overwhelming,” she said. “Every school does things differently and that makes it more challenging on parents.”

Shannon Park, a mom from Inwood, said she and her peers didn't even know the DOE calendar existed.

Park, who is now helping her daughter apply for high school, said even if all the information were in the same place, the process would still be exhausting.

“It’s booking these tours and getting there — finding the physical energy to go on these tours” Park said, adding that she looked through each separate school's website to do research.

DOE officials said they would continue to find ways to improve the information about high school events and ensure families know how to find it.

“We’ve taken significant steps to share information about school events related to the high school search and admissions process,” DOE spokesman Michael Aciman said.

“We're committed to making the high school application process easier, and giving families the most up to date information, so that every student is able to apply to and enroll in a high school of their choice.”