What does it mean to have a child with special needs?

For us, it means that while mainstream educational environments engage a wide array of students, special needs schools emphasize individualized instruction and support. Most importantly, if your child is struggling or being challenged in a particular area of their development, special needs schools will customize your child’s educational program to meet their very specific learning needs.

Special education is a broad term used to describe the educational system for children with disabilities. In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was developed to ensure that children with special education needs have access to the same public school education as every other child. In 1997, IDEA was revised to include laws to promote that children with special needs have the same access to the general curriculum.

Jane is here to support the parent through the process from identification to placement. She will make referrals for evaluation, provide resources for services, review all documentation, speak with all stakeholders, develop a list of appropriate programs and supports and create a strategic plan. Our consultants will assess and observe the student, attend school and IEP meetings and interface with evaluators and special education attorneys.

Reach out now to find out how we can help you!

Jane Gertler, Ed.D.

Special Education Consultant

Dr. Jane Gertler joined Smart City Kids as an Educational Consultant concentrating in advising families whose children may need special education services. Jane understands the uniqueness of each child with special needs and the challenge of finding an environment where children will thrive. As the former Director of The Office of Teaching and Learning at The Churchill School and Center, a K – 12 school for students with learning disabilities in New York City, Jane knows that finding the right school program is a complex task, but when your child comes home from school with a smile, feeling good about herself, and looking forward to the next day, it’s all worth it.

Before arriving at The Churchill School and Center, Dr. Gertler spent more than 20 years as a school administrator in Westchester, serving as Director of Special Education in Irvington, prior to becoming the Director of Special Education and then Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Professional Development in Edgemont. She holds a B.S. from Cornell University, a Master’s in Education from New York University, and a Doctorate in School Leadership from Fordham University.

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Smart City Kids College Division supports students in meeting their post-secondary educational goals by providing individualized guidance through the college admission process. Our aim is not just to help students gain acceptance to their top-choice colleges, we also hope that through this process we can help students self-actualize on their path to becoming lifelong learners.

Our consultants come with significant experience in the field of highly selective college admissions and bring a warm but honest approach in helping families strategize about the best options for college. Choose among our essay advising, 10-hour or unlimited packages to get the support that best fits your needs.

Jill Ortman

College Division, K-12 Education Consultant


Jill Ortman joined SCK after working as Director of College Counseling at Dwight School in New York for ten years, as well as head of the college counseling program at the High School Attached to Capital Normal University-Dwight school in Beijing. Prior to that, she was the Director of College Counseling at Colegio Menor San Francisco de Quito and Liceo International in Quito, Ecuador and served for many years as President of the School Board at Academia Cotopaxi in Quito.

After graduating from Brown University with a BA and MA in German Literature, and working in San Francisco as a paralegal, Jill and her husband volunteered with the Peace Corps in Ecuador, where they raised their two daughters, both of whom also graduated from Brown. In 2000, she earned a M.Ed. from Boston University specializing in teaching English as a second language.

Over the years, Jill has worked with students taking AP courses, working towards IB Diplomas, and students from schools offering their own advanced curricula. She has successfully guided families with children needing academic support as well as those seeking entry into highly competitive schools in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Europe. Reducing the stress and anxiety that families often feel as they navigate the college selection and application process is Jill’s forte. Her goal is for her students to gain entrance to colleges that not only meet their aspirations but also are good academic and social fits for them.

Jill is skilled at gaining rapport with teenagers in order to provide student-centered counseling but is very conscious of the need for parents to be included in the conversation and final decision. Her dry sense of humor along with her ability to help students maintain a positive yet realistic outlook as they select their high school classes, develop their interests, build a balanced college list, and complete their applications provides the right amount of support, allowing students to feel empowered throughout the process. Over the past 25+ years, Jill has had the opportunity to visit colleges and universities all over the United States, in Canada, China, the UK, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany.

She loves traveling to new destinations as well as to Paris, where her younger daughter’s family resides. She also enjoys reading, cooking and knitting in her spare time.

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Mariel Kessel, MA

College Division

Mariel Kessel has worked in education for over fifteen years. She began her career working in MBA admissions at Columbia Business School but found her passion for working with adolescents in her most recent role as associate dean for undergraduate admissions at Princeton University where she helped to identify the right candidates for admissions. Using the many years spent reviewing admission materials, she has enjoyed her work helping students to apply to college and university with a focus on fit.

Mariel understands the stress and pressures around the admissions process and seeks to build strong relationships with her clients to help them identify goals and create plans and structure to achieve those goals. One of her favorite things to do is to help students find their voice in the process and to understand that this process is as much about them choosing a school as being admitted to one. Mariel has worked with students who attend competitive schools from around the world and she has a solid grasp of different curriculums and the unique challenges facing students. Mariel holds a B.A. from Smith College and a M.A. from Columbia University. In her spare time, Mariel enjoys hiking and reading.

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There are many diverse curricular options available in the country for families navigating public or private schools. The challenge for many families is finding the most ideal match in a system that is complex and competitive not by design, but because of the volume of students applying and the few spaces available. Families should take the time to explore all of their options in making a considered decision, keeping in mind that the “right” school is the one that reflects your families’ needs and is the best suited for your child’s learning needs.

At Smart City Kids, we believe that with direction and information, parents can navigate the school application process. Toward that end, we:
  • Offer personal sessions that provide you with a detailed, inside look at school admissions
  • Meet your child to provide our educational assessment of your child’s academic skills and presentation
  • Help you focus on the schools that will best meet your child’s needs
  • Tell you what to look for during the tour, provide critical tips for student interviews and test preparation
  • Cover what schools will be looking for when they meet your child

If your child needs tutoring prior to testing, we also provide tutors with excellent track records preparing children for these tests. For families who are relocating, students in public schools, or in K-12th grade schools, we interact directly with the ongoing schools.

Get started now by scheduling a free, 15 minute service call with Jackie or Adriana!

Jackie Sirgo, MA

K-12 Education Consultant


Jackie Sirgo has spent her entire professional career focused on access and equity to K-12 schools and colleges, and universities. She has a particular interest in the history of educational institutions as they pertain to the students they serve. Over the years, she has developed the skill set to understand a student’s academic profile and make astute recommendations that are both academically and emotionally appropriate and will allow the student to reach their fullest potential.

Prior to joining Smart City Kids, Jackie served as the Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Speyer School. Before that, she served as the Associate Director of Admissions and Secondary School Placement Director at Speyer. Her roles at Speyer required her to identify gifted and accelerated learners using non-verbal assessments and academic achievement tools. She led the financial aid committee and managed a budget of over three million dollars. She collaborated with the Marketing Team to identify the best forms of outreach to attract families to Speyer. In addition, she supported the Placement Office by establishing relationships with Admissions Directors nationally, both at Day and Boarding Schools. Jackie also served as the Secondary School Placement Director at The School of Columbia and held the Junior and Senior academic and admissions counselor position for the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Barnard College.

Jackie earned her Bachelor of Art degree in Philosophy from Buffalo State College and her Masters in Higher Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Jackie also sits on the selection committee for the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship, which offers one of the only merit-based, need-blind high school scholarships to highly gifted students across the United States.

When she is not thinking about access and placement, she enjoys the outdoors, the history of the Americas, and gardening. She lives in New Jersey and co-parents three children.

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Adriana Payne

K-12 Education Consultant, Managing Director


Adriana Payne joined Smart City Kids as an Educational Consultant specializing in K-12 advisory. Adriana is passionate about demystifying the school process for families, helping them navigate the complexities of school options and problem solve with good humor and the goal of finding the environment where each child will flourish. Adriana is warm, curious and deeply intuitive, bringing thoughtfulness and care to the process of finding a school.

Adriana was the Director of Admission and Associate Head of School at The Mandell School in New York, overseeing all admissions, enrollment, communications and marketing during her six years there. Prior to Mandell, Adriana also ran her own independent consultancy in both New York and London.

Adriana was raised in Chicago where she attended an independent school. She has also lived in the UK and France. She holds a bachelor’s degree in religion from Hamilton College. She is an active volunteer for the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), and Hamilton College, where she is a member of the Alumni Council’s Executive Committee as the Vice Chair of Class Leadership. She also volunteers at Hamilton’s career center and on their Admissions team, conducting off-site interviews for applicants unable to visit the campus. Adriana has also been a regular volunteer at the New York Public Library.

Adriana has two children in New York City schools. When not advising families, Adriana enjoys traveling with her children, cooking, viewing contemporary art and architecture, hiking, skiing and quiet moments with an excellent book.

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One of the truly exciting aspects of raising children is that we have countless possibilities for education. The challenge is navigating all of those options, particularly at the nursery school level when your child is just beginning to walk and talk. How do you decide on the “right” educational environment to begin schooling? Most nursery schools are independent early childhood programs whose philosophies vary significantly, from play-based to traditional, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, with many combining a number of approaches into their curriculum. Families should take the time to explore and understand all of their options in order to make a thoughtful and well-informed decision, keeping in mind that the “right” school at the nursery level is the one that matches your priorities for your child’s first school experience.

Erica Papir, SCK’s Nursery School Advisor, offers parenting sessions to discuss whatever is on your mind as it relates to caring for your child. Topics include: preparing for a new baby, how to handle a move, and strategies for improving separation anxiety. Parenting can be very tricky – each time you master a stage or phase in your child’s development, it quickly changes. You may be left with the feeling that it is impossible to keep up.

Learn how we can help by scheduling a free, 15 minute service call with Erica!

Erica Papir

Corporate Specialist, Nursery Education Consultant


Erica is an Early Childhood Education Consultant and Corporate Specialist. Her focus is on the nursery school admissions process, and on educational advising in Westchester, NY. Bringing a sense of calm and sensitivity to her work with families, Erica works in a systematic, organized way to guide parents through the overwhelming aspects of the admission process. As a parent herself, she understands the demands parents face, including those involved in taking control of their child’s educational journey.

In addition to her consulting work, Erica offers parenting sessions to support parents through transitions or challenges with their children. She understands that parenting is complicated and is ready to help with compassion backed by personal and professional knowledge and experience. The support she offers covers a range of topics relevant to young families, from how to handle a move or welcome a new baby to easing separation anxiety. Erica also coordinates workshops for both corporations and schools on the topics of education, parenting, and public and private school admissions.

For 17 years, Erica was the Director of Admissions at The Caedmon School. As a member of the school’s senior administrative team, she was responsible for enrollment management, for the school’s marketing and communication, and for Co-Chairing the Financial Aid Committee. Erica managed all aspects of the admissions process, from tours to parent interviews and applicant playgroups. She was responsible for admissions decisions for applicants to all levels of the school. She designed a highly personalized admissions process for families and created various programs and events for applicant and current families.

Erica frequently spoke on admissions panels for the Parents League of New York, New York Family Magazine, and Early Steps. She is an alum of New York City Independent Schools, and she received a B.A. in Sociology from Brandeis University. While at Brandeis, the Admissions Office was her second home, where she worked closely with the Director on various student volunteer initiatives. Erica lives in Westchester and has a thirteen-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son. She is an active member of the school’s PTA, volunteers in the classroom, and Chairs numerous events for the school. She formerly Chaired a junior committee of Friends of Karen, a charity for children with terminal illnesses, and she currently participates on Brandeis’ Alumni Admissions Counsel. Erica is totally dedicated to supporting families, making sure the decisions they make are ideal for their child's education journey.

More Info »
Smart City Kids College Division supports students in meeting their post-secondary educational goals by providing individualized guidance through the college admission process. Our aim is not just to help students gain acceptance to their top-choice colleges, we also hope that through this process we can help students self-actualize on their path to becoming lifelong learners.

Our consultants come with significant experience in the field of highly selective college admissions and bring a warm but honest approach in helping families strategize about the best options for college. Choose among our essay advising, 10-hour or unlimited packages to get the support that best fits your needs.

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