year to year changes to the high school process

I went through the high school process with my daughter 7 years ago and my son 4 years ago - it seemed to be a messy and chaotic but pretty well oiled machine with very little changing between those two cycles. Since then, there have been both small and significant changes every year. But this past cycle saw so many changes that if you’ve been through this before, or even have heard about how things work from friends, the landscape is shifting.

These are changes that happened in the last cycle, starting last spring/summer to last week (the last entry):

  • Beacon dropped interview, published ranking rubric online

  • No more citywide high school fairs

  • State test scores released end of September instead of mid August (this was hopefully a one year aberration)

  • Bard Queens dropped open house sign ups

  • MySchools launched, letting families sign up for the SHSAT and apply to schools online

  • Not all middle schools accepted paper high school applications

  • Up to 20% of seats at specialized high school will be held out for Discovery program students

  • Diversity initiative expanded

  • DOE redesigned website

  • New chancellor

  • LaG drops call backs except for dance

  • Millenium Manhattan changed second screen to all NYC from Manhattan

  • Application due date pushed back from 12/3 to 12/14

  • Students can appeal to ANY school, not just ones they hadn’t applied to yet

The challenge in this is that the DOE isn’t good about sharing information. The info below was gleaned from press releases, guidance departments, parents who shared info from their middle schools, individual high school websites, local newspaper articles. As the season kicks in if you hear about any changes, please let me know and I’ll check things out. 

some personal thoughts about the high school process, looking back

My little one turned 18 last week. Yesterday was the first of 3 AP exams he’s taking this year. In August he’s leaving for college and will be a plane ride away. And he gets his braces off on Monday. I’ve been thinking lately about who he’s become and how I NEVER could have imagined who/where he is now from who/where he was when he was looking at high schools. 

Jack was ambivalent throughout the high school process. He kept hoping to fall in love with a high school the way he fell in love with his middle school but that didn’t happen. He took the SHSAT and told me a week before the exam that he wasn’t a specialized high school kind of kid (whatever that means). Of the many schools we toured he thought Bronx Science was great but knew the commute would do him in - we’re in the village and an 8am start time in the Bronx, for a true night owl, wasn’t the right fit for him.

He got offers at his 3rd main round choice, Baruch, and first specialized: Brooklyn Tech. I pushed for Tech because he was feeling size constraints in middle school and I thought a larger place would give him more opportunities. Plus his older sister was there, I was PTA president, and he already was familiar with the building and the school. He thought he’d be more comfortable in a smaller community but in the end chose Tech. 

By the second week of high school he was falling through the cracks. He felt overwhelmed and lost, and didn’t connect with anyone. His first two years were -pretty awful. I tried to pull him out more than once, but in the end he decided to stick it out, not wanting to be “that kid” who transferred into a new place. 

But, on his own, he discovered photography and that helped him immeasurably. In fact, he wrote about how photography changed his life for his college common app essay. He loved his major at Tech - Social Science Research - and soared academically his second two years. He’s ending up at a liberal arts college half the size of Tech, with small classes, on an enclosed campus in the middle of the country, planning on double majoring in psychology and film (at least that’s his plan right now).

I often say that the high school experience, whether good, bad, in between, or all of the above informs what comes next. Jack in part learned what he wants next by living through what did and didn’t work for him in high school. He discovered his creative outlet because the lack of creativity in school made him realize he was missing something that was important to him. He’s intrigued by the social sciences, American history after WWII and will  be thrilled to never take another math class - all things he learned at Tech. He’s even completely given up video games, something I would have never dreamed possible back in the day. 

There is no perfect high school. A wide range of schools out there have terrific and sometimes not such terrific things about them. And who your child is now, compared to who they will be at the end of 8th grade or about to start high school, or how they evolve and grow as they get ready to graduate and look towards next steps can be a serious mystery. 

I always told my kids, and the families I’ve worked with, that high school is just part of the journey. My daughter, finishing up her junior year as a costume design major at a theater conservatory program went to Tech thinking she wanted to be a biologist or a chemist. Sometimes it’s the things they’re not getting or that aren’t working that inform next choices. And sometimes the most important things they learn aren’t what one would have expected.