Understanding NYC Schools

Understanding NYC Schools

Welcome to the New York City school system which serves over one million students from pre-k into the early years of college. This guide is meant to break it down into bite-size chunks, hopefully shedding light on the nation’s largest school district.

  • Who is in charge?

  • Who runs New York City schools?

    • The New York City Department of Education operates public schools in the city. It's the largest system of schools in the United States and is headed by the schools chancellor in conjunction with a leadership team. The current chancellor is Carmen Fariña. She was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. New York City schools have been under mayoral control since 2002.
  • Aside from the mayor, who else has oversight?

    • The Panel for Education Policy is “the governance body” and has some administrative authority, including approving placement of new schools and school closures. Still, the mayor has quite a bit of influence over who sits on the panel. It consists of the chancellor, appointed by the mayor, and 13 members. Eight of the members are appointed by the mayor. Borough presidents appoint the other five. There are also students who serve as non-voting members on the panel.
  • What are Citywide and Community Education Councils?

    • Citywide and Community Education Councils are advisory committees of elected parent leaders who help to administer schools on the district level. The councils are made up of 12 volunteers — nine elected parent members, two community members or local business owners appointed by the borough president and one (nonvoting) high school senior. They can review educational programming, approve zoning lines and make recommendations to the department.
  • What do superintendents do? How can they help me?

    • Generally speaking, superintendents oversee and support all schools in a given area. They approve teacher tenure decisions and rate the principals of schools. Superintendents may provide some assistance for parents, but much of that role has been assumed by the district family advocates, and the parent coordinators at individual schools. Parents can always call 311 for help, as well, for assistance.
    • There are two types of superintendents:

      • District superintendents oversee and support all schools for prekindergarten through eighth grade in each of the city's 32 school districts.

      • High schools, including most of those that also include lower grades, are overseen by high school superintendents. They also serve as liaisons to the citywide Council for High Schools.

      The department has a full list of community and high school superintendents. There is also a full list of district family advocates and borough directors.
  • What are networks?

    • Networks are small groupings of approximately 25 schools. The networks were developed as part of an initiative to empower principals to make the best decisions for their schools. They're basically a grouping of schools that face similar challenges or may have like-minded principals. The groupings are not necessarily along school type or borough. A Manhattan elementary school may be included in the same network as middle schools from the Bronx and Queens. Schools in a network share a 14-member support staff, which provides services similar to those once provided by the former community school district offices, before the state granted the mayor control of the schools in 2002.
  • What about unions? Are all school employees members of a union?

    • Not all district employees are members of a union, but the overwhelming majority are unionized. With a few exceptions, charter schools do not have unionized employees. The primary unions representing district employees include:
    • Teachers
        The largest union representing department of education employees is the United Federation of Teachers, commonly called the "UFT." As the name suggests, it represents New York City public school teachers, as well as guidance counselors, nurses and other district employees plus retirees. In all, the UFT represents about 200,000 members, more than half of whom work as active teachers or counselors. The UFT is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and is the largest member of the New York State United Teachers.
    • School leaders
    • Service workers
        AFSCME Local 372 represents many of the service workers in the district. The nearly 25,000 employees represented by this union include cossing guards, lunchroom emplooyes, family paraprofessionals, among others.
    • School safety officers
  • What types of New York City schools are there?

  • What is the difference between a zone and a district?

    • The city is divided up into 32 geographic districts. Those districts are then divided into smaller zones which determine the area served by local schools. Each district has its own superintendent and receives guidance from a Community District Education Council made up of parents and local representatives. If you don’t know what your zone or district is, call 311 and tell them your address. You can also search for your zoned schools on the department's website.
  • Which schools serve which grades?

    • Every New York City school is different and may serve different grades. There are some that serve grades pre-k to 5, while others go up to 8th grade. There are middle schools for grades 6-8 and high schools for 9-12, but also some 6-12 schools. This means a child could attend three different schools between pre-k and high school or just two depending on the grade configuration.
    • Here's a brief primer on the types schools and the grades they generally serve. As with anything, there may be exceptions to these rules.

      Early Childhood schools typically serve students from pre-Kindergarten through about third grade.

      Elementary schools serve students from pre-Kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade.

      Junior High, Intermediate or Middle Schools — This can be a bit confusing. These schools often serve the "middle" or "intermediate" portion of a students experience , sixth through eighth grade. Although, a few schools go all the way through twelfth grade.

      High school is for ninth through twelfth grade. Although students may apply to any level of schools, every student must fill out a high school application when they enter ninth or tenth grade. Schoolbook's Guide: The High School Years has additional informaiton on navigating the application process.

      • New York City also offers new Pathways in Technology high schools that serve grades 9-14, where students can earn an Associate’s Degree at CUNY. It is modeled after the first P-Tech school in Brooklyn. These schools enable students to get high school, college and career experience and relevant industry certification.
  • Which schools serve which areas?

    • Some schools are "zoned" meaning they are neighborhood public schools for all students living within a designated geographic area, or zone. Usually this is the public school closest to the student’s home. Zoned schools are commonly found for elementary or middle schools, but some high schools are also zoned. It's also important to remember that some districts do not have any zoned schools. The Department of Education refers to these as "choice districts." Districts 1, 7, and 23 are choice districts. Students living in one of these districts need to rank their preferred schools when applying to schools. Schoolbook's search tool can help you find information on schools.
  • Are charter schools public schools?

    • Yes. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of the Department of Education under a charter from the State Board of Regents or the State University of New York. Charter schools receive public funding on a per-pupil basis, but typically do not receive financing for facilities. Financing for facilities is often raised privately. That's not the case for all schools in New York. New York City Schools have taken the unusual step of allowing many charter schools to co-inhabit in public school buildings, sharing space with districts schools in what amounts to giving them free space. The public charters are organized under the New York City Charter School Center.
    • Charter schools are not the same as private schools, which are independent organizations run by private entities, and are financed in whole or part by charging their students tuition. Data and other information on private schools may be found on the New York State Education Department's website.
  • What is "Gifted & Talented?"

    • Gifted & Talented refers to programs for high-performing students. The programs have accelerated curriculum and “rigorous instructional strategies.” Students entering kindergarten through third grade may apply, tests are required to determine eligibility. High schools do not have Gifted & Talented programs, but many offer “screened” or academically rigorous programs.
  • What programs cater toward career or technically-focused education?

    • New York City's Career & Technical Schools have students focus on "hands-on" career skills. Students work toward a Regent's Diploma, but each school focuses on particular career-focused track, such as aviation, film, health, engineering and construction. CTE students often participate in job shadowing, project-based learning and internships that allow them to apply what they have learned and gain work experience.
    • Students applying to these schools with the same application for the high school process. More information can be found on the department's website or use Schoolbook's search tool to compare different Career and Technical Education schools.
  • What are the specialized high schools?

  • What extra services are provided to special needs students?

    • It really depends on the student. Every student with a disability is entitled to an Individualized Education Program, or I.E.P., under federal law. This means having an evaluation and getting the right services to meet their individual needs, whether they have autism, an emotional disturbance, physical disabilities or learning disabilities like dyslexia. After receiving an I.E.P., students and their families work with the Department of Education to set academic goals and ensure appropriate accommodations.
    • Students with the most severe needs — which can include autism, intellectual disabilities and some emotional disabilities — often attend a school in District 75. Some of these are stand-alone schools, while others share space in regular city school buildings. There are 56 District 75 school organizations located at more than 300 sites in all five boroughs and Syosset, New York. Schoolbook's Guide: Your Special Education Child has additional information on navigating District 75.
  • What resources are available for students who may need other types of help?

    • District 79 schools help students who may have fallen behind or need extra help. There are several specific programs for students, including those who are also parents or may have a court-related situation. There are several types of programs within District 79. If you think such a school may be appropriate, contact the district office at 917-521-3639 or visit.
    • Alternative high schools are set up for students 15 to 21 years old who may have fallen behind on credits or dropped out of school. Included in alternative high schools:

      Transfer high schools are full-time schools for students who dropped out or fell behind on credits and have completed at least one year of high school. Transfer schools have additional tutoring and help students develop college and career plans.

      Young Adult Borough Centers are similar to transfer schools, but offer evening classes for students who are behind in credits, considering dropping out or have adult responsibilities during the daytime.
  • Who can we call?

  • Who should we call first?

    • Aside from a student's teacher, who can provide guidance, parent coordinators can help with issues at a particular school. They are members of the school staff who work with the principal to address parents’ issues or concerns at the school. If you know of an issue or need additional help with something, the parent coordinator should be able to help.
    • Find your parent coordinator.
  • Should we contact our school's principal?

    • Yes. In addition to the parent coordinators, principals are best suited to answer school-specific questions. A phone number and e-mail address for each school's principal is available on each school's website, which can be found using the department's search tool.
  • What if I have a question that can't be answered at the school?

    • If you can't find the answer you're looking for at the school level, District and Borough Family Advocates may be able to help. There are 32 District Family Advocates, one for each regional district. They help with questions involving elementary and middle schools. Borough Family Advocates are focused on high schools and secondary schools in each borough.
    • Find your borough or district advocate on the department's website.
  • How do I contact the Department of Education?

    • You can always call the city's 311 system if none of the other contacts above are helpful.
    • You could also send a message to Chancellor Carmen Fariña by e-mail or regular mail at:

      Tweed Courthouse
      52 Chambers Street
      New York, NY 10007
  • What if I need materials provided in another language?

    • Contact the Translation and Interpretation Unit for those services. The unit provides both translation services, focused on providing written materials in other languages, and interpretation services, which help render audio or spoken materials to another language. Translated materials may be provided in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish or Urdu.
    • Contact the unit for more details:

      By phone: 718- 752-7373

      By e-mail:

      By letter:
      45-18 Court Square, Floor 2
      Long Island City, NY 11101
  • What is ARIS?

    • The Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, also known as ARIS, is a Web-based database for tracking all information about students, teachers and schools. It also gives parents access to information about their child, including test scores, grades, attendance, school statistics and transcripts for students in middle and high school. Through ARIS, parents can participate in their child’s academic experience and monitor the child’s progress. The information is accessible to parents online through the department’s website.
    • A parent can begin using ARIS by contacting the parent coordinator at his or her child’s school to obtain a temporary password. You will then need a personal e-mail address and your child’s student identification number. Once you have logged in to ARIS you will be able to see your child’s records and test scores dating back to the 2005-6 school year. The information is accessible in 10 different languages. You can also find resources through ARIS that will help you understand the information it provides. The system is phasing in more information for parents to see.
    • Many schools have purchased other software packages for tracking student test scores and other sources of data. Ask your school if there is a website other than ARIS that you can use for keeping up on homework assignments, quizzes, attendance, test scores and even PTA meetings.
  • Does every school have a website?

    • Each school has a portal through the Education Department’s website that provides some information. Some schools also have their own self-created sites, as do some school parent associations. There are also networks of parents who communicate with each other online by e-mail or in discussion groups. Information about the public online resources that are available at your school can be found on the school’s page on SchoolBook, or you can ask the parent coordinator or another parent.
Flyouts go here

New York City Department of Education and WNYC’s SchoolBook

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New York City Department of Education and WNYC’s SchoolBook

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Coulter Jones, Louise Ma, Beth Fertig, Patricia Willens / WNYC Data News Team. Follow us @datanews, email us here.

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 Understanding NYC Schools

Welcome to the New York City school system which serves over one million students from pre-k into the early years of college. This guide is meant to break it down into bite-size chunks, hopefully shedding light on the nation’s largest school district.