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As spring turns to summer, an 8th grader waits for placement

Even more anxious than teachers at schools without students for next year are the parents of students without schools.

We received a letter to Chancellor Joel Klein from Catherine Fleischmann, an Upper West Side mother whose eighth-grader still doesn’t know where she’ll attend high school. Fleischmann’s daughter is one of more than 6,500 eighth-graders who didn’t get into any of the schools they applied to. Unhappy with the second-round school options, Fleischmann filed an appeal earlier this month and will find out the outcome by mid-July.

“I can’t begin to tell you what a nightmare this has been for us,” Fleischmann told me. Here’s her letter to Klein:

Dear Chancellor Klein,

I am writing to seek your help.

My sweet, hardworking, dedicated daughter is an 8th-grade honor student at Delta middle school, an academically accelerated middle school. She has had almost perfect attendance since kindergarten. Unfortunately, she was not matched to one of her first choice high schools, even though there were still openings in those schools. Her second-choice tier of schools consists of schools at which she will neither be safe nor academically challenged.

My daughter did not hear of this devastating news by way of a letter sent to our home but rather from her guidance counselor at school. An absurdity in and of itself! When she was told of this terrible situation, she was so distraught that she spent hours roaming the streets hysterically crying because she had no high school to attend. The transition from middle school to high school is a very important developmental milestone for any child. Without a permanent school placement, there is no way for my daughter to emotionally prepare herself for this very difficult life transition.

As a lifelong New Yorker and the mother of three wonderful children, I have worked hard the last 17 years to ensure my children receive the best education possible — something I know the New York City Department of Education can offer. My oldest son graduated from Stuyvesant and I have never doubted the quality of the education he received. I was happier than if I had won the lottery when he was accepted to Stuyvesant. Today, however, my worst nightmare has become an unbearable reality — my earnest, dedicated daughter was not matched to any of her first choice high schools. How do you explain the injustice of this random process to a heartbroken, embarrassed, ashamed child?

My daughter is a very focused, hardworking, sensible and caring individual. She has performed community service at an elementary afterschool program. She has helped raise funds for Katrina victims and was acknowledged in Reuters and by the Red Cross. She is a star athlete in soccer and basketball. She has always been ranked at the higher level in her class. Her former teachers from nursery school through middle school are astonished that this has happened to their former star student.

Following months of touring high schools and listening to advice from her older brothers, my daughter finalized the list of schools she wanted to attend based on what she believed would afford her the most opportunity for academic success. Because of an entrenched random system, she was not matched to any of her first round schools. This absolutely absurd process has led me to a place where I never expected to find myself, needing to appeal this most ridiculous and unconscionable oversight. The system has only succeeded in turning my daughter’s life upside down. She remains on unsteady ground while also having to endure humiliation and ostracization by her peers for not having a high school match.

Due to the way that the current system is set up, the message you are sending children is that it does not matter how hard they work, they could still wind up without any place to go. I understand that year after year more than 7,000 students do not get matched to a high school. This is an incomprehensible and unacceptable practice, whether it is happening to my daughter or another parent’s child.

This is the greatest city in the world but our education system does not reflect that. There is a major shortage of good schools and too few solutions put forward by our educators to remedy this problem.

I hope that this situation will be addressed so that my daughter will be placed in a high school of her choice, which will be academically challenging and appropriate for her. She deserves to be able to picture herself in a new place, her new high school, on her graduation day.

I look forward to hearing from you as to how you intend to rectify this situation.

Thank you for your anticipated assistance.

Catherine Fleischmann

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