Vol. 17, No. 22 Nov. 4 - 17, 2004


Making the Most of Middle School Selection


While the school year has just begun, it’s already time for parents of fifth graders to look ahead to the next big leap — middle school. This is an especially crucial choice, as a positive middle school experience is key to children’s development. What follows are some helpful tips for navigating the range of choices available to you. 

Zoned School

Every child can go to their default, or zoned, middle school. It can be difficult to figure out your child’s zoned school. Your child could live across the street from a friend who is one zone but you might be in another. To determine your child’s zoned school, talk to your elementary school’s guidance counselor or call 311.

Here are some rough guidelines by street address:

MS 399—West 183rd Street to West Fordham Road, Sedgwick to University avenues 
IS 206—East 184th to East 183rd streets, University to Jerome avenues
MS 143—West Fordham Road to Bedford Park Boulevard, University to Jerome avenues
MS 254—East Fordham Road to East 198th Street, Grand Concourse to Marion Avenue, East Fordham Road to East Mosholu Parkway, Marion to Webster avenues
PS/MS 95—Bedford Park Boulevard to East Gun Hill Road, Goulden to Jerome avenues
MS 80—East 198th to East 211th streets, Jerome to Webster avenues

Outside the Zone

Many parents choose to look beyond the zoned school, and if that’s the case, preparation is key. Below are some general tips culled from, an excellent Web-based resource of school profiles and advice.

• Talk to the Learning Support Center: The local Learning Support Center at One Fordham Plaza (718-741-7090) is a good starting point for getting a sense of how Region 1 is handling transfers and admissions to special middle school programs. 

• Arrange a tour: Many selective programs showcase their classrooms during established times, but most schools can be viewed by calling the guidance counselor or parent coordinator. This is one of the most important steps in getting questions answered and a flavor of the school environment. 

• Attend middle school fairs: Many agencies and schools host fairs with representatives from various middle schools. Contact your child’s current elementary and prospective middle schools to see if they plan to organize an event.

• Formulate questions: Prepare a list of questions before taking a tour or talking to a staff person. This is a good way to get information about the school’s philosophy, teaching style, programs, and atmosphere.

• Give the school a good up-and-down: Are the teachers engaging? Do the students look bored? How are the classroom libraries? Are the books new and are there enough of them? Are the classroom walls lined with students’ work? Are the projects interesting and well executed? And most importantly, could you envision your child walking down these hallways?

• Get your child involved: Bring them on the tours. Gauge their reactions to different schools. Make sure they’re happy with the option they will have to live with.

• Establish good relationships with teachers and the school’s secretary: Middle schools will often require letters of recommendation and school records, including the fourth grade state exams. Having the school administration on your side is helpful in gathering together all the required information. 

• Do your research: Talk with teachers at your child’s school about where they might do well. Visit the Education Counseling Center, located at 3150 Rochambeau Ave., and ask for one-on-one guidance and their middle school directory. Also, ask other parents of middle schoolers about their child's experience.

(For a list of selected Region 1 middle schools, visit the Norwood News Web site at   beginning Friday, Nov. 5.)

A Middle School Choice Dictionary

School of choice: Public middle schools that are not zoned. Choice schools are usually smaller than traditional middle schools, and attendance is based on an application, audition, school record or other criteria. Some use a lottery (like the Jonas Bronck Academy). Students may attend choice schools in their region, or anywhere in the city. 

Zoned/neighborhood school: A middle school that has room (or is intended to) for all local students who choose to go there. Established by the superintendent, the zone is based on residential address. This school is the default unless parents seek out other options. 

Gifted/talented program: High performing children may attend a “gifted” program. All Region 1 schools offer an honors track, while some gifted programs are schools unto themselves. Often quite competitive, gifted programs usually require solid academic performance, high state exam scores and teacher recommendations.

Magnet school: Schools with magnet programs receive extra public funding to support special programs (like art, drama, science) to make the school more attractive. 

Charter school: While operating outside the public school system, charter schools receive state funding after submitting an application to start the school. They often have a unique atmosphere and philosophy. They are open to children by lottery.

What’s New at PS 280 and MS 80

This fall, several local middle schools are going through big changes thanks to the Department of Education (DOE)’s increased attention to the intermediate levels. Norwood’s PS 280 is emblematic of the city’s push to expand successful elementary schools into K thru 8 facilities. The city hopes that the higher test scores common to elementary schools might continue when students maintain one learning environment.

PS 280, located on East Mosholu Parkway, is currently the only Region 1 elementary school that expanded to incorporate a sixth grade this fall. About 75 sixth graders and several new teachers now use three classrooms from neighboring MS 80. PS 280 annexed a wing from MS 80’s second floor to accommodate roughly 100 additional students a year as the three grades are added.

Amy Meier, a PS 280 literacy coach, said the transition is progressing smoothly. “It’s going great,” Meier said. “We like continuing to have [the students].”

MS 80 is also the target of plenty of change over the last year as it underwent a restructuring process that debuted this fall. The school was divided into two academies —math and science, and business and journalism. While core subjects are taught in both sections, the approach seeks to interest students through applied learning. 

In the journalism department, teachers intend to start a school newsletter, moving up to a newspaper as students develop writing and production skills. MS 80 Principal Lovey Rivera hopes to fuse math and science in the other academy by creating a garden with products the students can eventually sell. 

“We’re starting a new day at MS 80,” she said.

MS 118 on East 178th Street and MS 143 on West 231st Street are the other district schools undergoing similar restructuring processes this year. 

Heather Haddon

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