Middle School: taking a chance

It’s middle school selection time in NYC, and with our oldest being in 5th grade this is our first time going through the process. Without going into too many specifics, it’s looking like our choice will come down to two public schools, which couldn’t be more different: Giant & Established vs. Tiny & Brand Spanking New. We have no idea what to do.

I’ve been going over the pros and cons of each school. The first has its own building and contains 1,800 middle school students. It has every in-school and after-school extracurricular activity you could name (and its teams do amazingly well in competitions). It is long-established in its neighborhood and universally well-regarded. Despite its size it does not seem crazy or disorganized at all. There’s an accelerated program, yet the more average kids don’t get forgotten. A large number of students go on to elite NYC high schools.

Jake took a tour and absolutely adored it. However, it would be a bit of a commute for him – 20-30 minutes door-to-door. He’d be taking the subway. He could possibly get lost in such a huge student body, especially if there’s a subject he’s not crazy about and just wants to coast through. If he’s doing after-school activities in the winter he’d be coming home after dark. And the wonderful principal recently left, so that’s a big unknown.

The second school is being started by a group that has a great track record of starting similar schools. I love the principal. Being new, there will be plenty of supplies and an enthusiastic staff. It will be very small – no hiding! And did I mention, it’s on our freaking corner? No commute at all – an extra hour a day is nothing to sneeze at. Plus it will be super convenient for other activities and performances. The principal is taking the kids on a retreat over the summer – she’s really invested in getting to know them and starting off right. The transition from the local elementary school he’s been at for seven years would probably be easier at this small school. The first class will get to help the school find itself, choose activities, etc. – something that really excites Jake.

But, of course, the entire school is a great unknown. It’s in a building that it will share with an elementary school. We have no idea what the student body will be like – often new schools get stuck with kids who aren’t wanted anywhere else. Past success doesn’t guarantee a great school.

The great thing is, I think the odds are in our favor whichever we choose. But the experiences will be so different for Jake. And which one we choose could severely impact where he goes to high school. And I have to admit, I’m excited about getting in on something new and all of the advantages that come with that. Then again, plugging him into a place that is running already would be the easier choice.



  1. says

    I know you’re probably not looking for advice here, but I’d suggest going with the smaller school. The motivations/excitement of the teachers and principal speaks volumes and will be a HUGE factor in your son’s success. Plus it’s so much more convenient for you guys–more time to spend together as a family! You’re right though, either way you win. I’d pick the smaller/newer choice. Good luck!

  2. says

    I’m another vote for small and close. I am a middle school English teacher, and I can tell you that the age requires care. It is a wild ride of change. Smaller means he will get attention when it’s his turn on the upside down parts! Also, the principal sounds very motivated. That means a lot. It sets the tone for the staff and thus the students. The closeness factor is pretty big to me also. You’ll be more involved because it will be easier to do so. Good luck! Like you said, your kids will be fine; they live in a family that values education and is supportive. That’s way more than half the battle.

  3. Sarah says

    I know we talked about it in person this weekend, but seeing you all spell it out in this post, I’d go for small, new, and nearby. The principal sounds terrific and the convenience is not to be sneezed at.

  4. David says

    I loved my experience in a large high school. There was a music program with a swing choir, madrigal group, concert choir, two marching bands, jazz band. I wouldn’t have had those opportunities in a smaller school.

    • says

      @David: That is a huge concern of mine. Band, robotics team, sports – he probably wouldn’t have that at the small school, at least the first year (although I don’t know for sure). Other people have told me to go with the best school and then get him into after-school stuff elsewhere, but it’s not as easy, and would just add another commute. Hmmm…

  5. Denise Traynor says

    i would go with the new school. A long commute on the subway in winter huge school. Jake will be only 11 years old. That is a lot for a little kid. Do you want to spend a lot of timeconcerned for his safety? You proved with PS 11 that interested and involved parents can shape a school for the better. What are your thoughts?

  6. says

    Truly a tough choice! My guess is that which ever school landed Jake (and his fantastic family) will be moving way up on everyone’s radar.

  7. elissapr says

    While I know nothing about this NYC middle school system – when you change to a new principal…well the whole dynamic of a school can change. This happened at my DD’s school – and while I’m lucky that she’s a kid who could do well anywhere…this principal, well she’s from a different planet. So, while this older school seems attractive from a number of vantage points, the new principal would be a big unknown factor for me…

    • says

      @elissapr: I probably should have mentioned that the new principal has been at the school for a really long time, as the dean of the 6th grade. But I have no idea what he’s like as a principal. Having been through a regime change at the kids’ elementary school, I totally agree that the principal can make or break a school.

  8. says

    Small and close. Life’s too short for long commutes. Does Jake like to be a big fish in a little pond?

    My kids’ school is K-8 and has less than 1,000 students. I can’t imagine the rampant hormones of so many adolescents all in one school.

    Where are his friends headed next year?

    • says

      @kim/reluctantrenovator: We don’t know yet. Everybody just got their letters, and some might be in a situation like we are where they’re dealing with an out-of-district school, so they wouldn’t know yet. I’m trying to find out though.

  9. says

    I feel your pain! We’ve been through the same thing. I kept picturing that scene in Parenthood where Steve Martin is being shot at by his son in the bell tower yelling “you made me play second base!” No parent wants such a vision for the future!

    All you can do is your best though. You’ve clearly given it a lot of thought so I’m sure it will work out.

    This is on my twitter list for today. Have a great weekend

  10. Gary says

    I think it depends on the kid. Do you think Jake is the kind of kid who could be overlooked in a large school?
    There is a lot to be said of a small, very local school, which would be my preference.
    All the time commuting could be spent studying (yea right), but the shorter journey will have other benifits )no excuse for being late).

  11. says

    I’d go with the large school full of extra curricular activities and groups, and school funding. NYC gets $4K per student in general ed and $8K per kid in special ed as the personnel budget for elementary school. Probably similar for middle school. Go with the school that has the money for specialists, older teachers, etc. And you mentioned new schools sometimes have kids other schools don’t want? Well, another reason to not put Jake in the new school. 20 minutes of a commute won’t kill him. He’ll have that or more for high school. You’ve probably already made your decision by now anyway :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *