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As the day of my son’s Turning 5 meeting drew closer, a cloud of anxiety hovered over our New York City apartment. I had braced for a fight several months before, when our school-appointed social worker refused to observe Noodle at pre-K because she was “too busy.” Just applying to our zoned school had sapped all my strength. The parent coordinator took ill one week before the DOE deadline and had not left anyone in charge.
Thankfully, by the last hour of the last day for applications, a living breathing human was able to take my paperwork and I signed up Noodle for kindergarten. After an in-person meeting and more emails with the social worker, we seemed on better terms. She agreed to visit Noodle at preschool, and gave me the name of a behavior specialist who turned out to be quite wonderful.
So by the time I braved snowfall in late March to reach our IEP meeting, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. Everyone seemed to be on the same page for next year: an ICT classroom (a mix of gen ed and special needs kids with two teachers, one of whom has a special ed degree) and occupational therapy. I’d already waged a war in my own mind: Will ICT be academically challenging enough for my chess-playing 4-year-old? Will being in a class with other struggling kids give him more opportunities to model bad behavior? But I’d moved past these stereotypes. I’d done my research, spoken to parents of ICT students and talked Noodle’s teachers’ ears off about what was best for him. I was ready for a truce.
If you’re unhappy with your neighborhood school, you may want to enter a lottery for a charter school. The deadline is April 1--so hurry. In most cases you can submit an application online. Get an application on the New York City Charter School Center website, on the individual schools' websites or at the school. (Some charter schools are open this week, even though the public schools are on Spring break.)
But which school? Here are tips for making your choice.
Parents whose children turn four this year may start applying for pre-kindergarten this week. Applications are available online now and the Education Department will host pre-K info sessions in all five boroughs this week, beginning in Queens tonight. Applications are due April 5.
Pre-K programs are housed in public schools or at local child care centers and community organizations, and are either half day (2.5 hours), or full day, (6 hours and 20 minutes.) The state mandates that each pre-k class may have a maximum of 18 students with two teachers.
Applying for pre-K gives parents a first taste of New York City's competitive public school admissions process. Any child who was born in 2009 may apply, but admission is not guaranteed: Last year, 30 percent of the kids who applied for pre-K didn't land seats in DOE programs.
The drama of the city’s school bus strike officially ended more than a week ago—but you wouldn’t know it at my kid’s bus stop.
When the bus drivers’ union called off the strike last week, my sympathy for its members—who had lost nearly a month’s pay and gained almost nothing—was mixed with relief at the prospect of finally getting to work on time. My 6-year-old goes to school three miles and a tricky subway ride from our home in Brooklyn. I have a job in Manhattan. The school bus is the magic that allows those realities to coexist.
My relief was doomed to a short life: We waited at our regular stop that day, but the bus never came. It didn’t show up the next day either, nor the next. When the bus finally did appear at our stop—six days after the strike was over—it had a new driver, who looked to be reading directions off the back of an envelope. He seemed like a nice guy, if a little bewildered to be navigating a neighborhood he didn’t know with a bus full of kids, but he couldn’t say whether he’d continue to be assigned to the route. I can’t say either, because the bus skipped our stop again the next day.
Most children in Queens attend their neighborhood elementary schools, and there isn’t a lot of room for shopping around. However, if you are dissatisfied with your zoned school, here are some possibilities.
The most crowded district in the city, District 24 has had three new non-zoned elementary schools open up since 2010 to ease the overcrowding, including PS 290, PS 330, and PS 110, which opened in the fall of 2012.
District 25, serving Bayside and Flushing, has three well-regarded early childhood schools for grades K-3 which are open to children across the district: PS 130, PS 242 Leonard P. Stavisky Early Childhood School, and the Active Learning Elementary School. The Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology, a K-8 school hosted on the Queens College campus, accepts students by lottery from all over Queens.
PS 201 The Discovery School for Inquiry and Research, has a magnet grant, so children may apply from outside the zone.
PS/IS 266 in Bellerose accepts children from across District 26 through a lottery and shares a campus with PS/IS 208 and the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and the Sciences.
Some neighborhood schools in the district also sometimes accept students from outside the zone. PS 031 Bayside and PS 046 Alley Pond have had some room for a few students from outside the zone in recent years.
Goldie Maple Academy is open to students throughout District 27.
The Academy for Excellence through the Arts is a small, arts-focused early childhood school open to applicants from throughout the district. PS 80 Thurgood Marshall offers a gifted and talented program that is not part of the city's gifted program, and while most general education students are from the zone, the school does maintain a waiting list for a small number of out-of-zone children.
Four schools in District 29 accept students by lottery, three of them are K-8 schools and a fourth is an early childhood school. All are housed in attractive well-equipped buildings and are open district-wide: PS/IS 208, PS 251, PS/IS 268, and the Gordon Parks School.
While District 30 does not have any non-zoned schools, some neighborhood schools have accepted out-of-zone students over the past few years. Some strong schools with dual language programs accept a few students from outside the zone each year, including PS 166 Henry Gradstein, PS Q222 Fire Fighter Christopher A. Santora School, and PS 228 Early Childhood Magnet School of the Arts.
I am very concerned about the the direction that kindergarten is going. When will people realize these are babies, who deserve to play and learn at their own pace, mostly out and about in the world? Five year olds should not be taught material that's intended for 6-year-old brains, developmentally. Five year olds should not be asked to sit doing worksheets for hours a day, but that's what most teachers are doing now. Must I send my child to kindergarten? I would prefer to keep her away from all formal schooling until she is 6 or 7 (like the kids in Finland) but I am afraid I would be breaking the law.
Dear Kg concerned,
The last time I explored this with DOE staffers, I was assured that the object of the law was not to "go after" the parents who do not send their child to kindergarten. Their concern is for the kids who were not let into crowded schools because kindergarten was not required. You may keep her out of kindergarten but you must enroll her for 1st grade (unless you decide to homeschool -- more on how to do that below.)
As my eldest son prepares to enter kindergarten this fall, I can think of little else. I’ve entered charter school lotteries, toured our zoned school and the just-out-of-zone schools that we could get bumped to if ours fills up. Anyone I talk to who has a child or even knows a child is sure to hear about my worries: Is Noodle ready for the chaos of our local progressive elementary school? Would team-teaching or gen ed be the better choice? Would the structure of a Success Academy be helpful or would Eva Moskowitz beat all the creativity out of him with her much-vaunted four-inch heels? So the other day when my husband off-handedly asked, “You signed up for kindergarten, right?” I had to shuffle my feet like a nervous preschooler. “Um, no. Not yet.”
I have four days until the DOE application deadline. Considering that I’m the kind of person who has been known to RSVP to parties after they’re over, four days feels like an eternity. Still, I know I’m playing with matches. If something goes wrong and I can't register, Noodle becomes a pawn of the DOE, placed wherever there’s an empty seat. I’ve come close to applying. I really have. But things keep getting in the way. Doctor appointments, school tours and writing are just a few of my excuses.
Just scrambling to find all the paperwork to prove that I live where I say I live has been surprisingly difficult. Who gets Con Ed bills in the mail anymore? Pay stubs on paper? Please. After weeks of killing trees and commiserating with other moms, I finally have my packet ready: birth certificate, a copy of our lease, my husband’s W2, and a not-so-nice letter from the IRS that, though embarrassing, has our address on it. So what’s holding me back?
Quite simply, I’m just not excited. What should be a wondrous rite of passage for my son has become a subject of anxiety and compromised ideals. At the very mention of the word “kindergarten” I let out a large sigh, feel my blood pressure rise and launch into an increasingly well-rehearsed rant. In my quest to ensure that Noodle’s kindergarten experience is perfect, I’ve already made it unbearable.
Parents should submit applications for kindergarten by March 1, particularly if they want to explore options outside their zoned neighborhood school. You may apply directly to as many schools as you like: be sure to bring your child's birth certificate and proof of address. You'll find out in April if your child has a seat.
In most cases, you are guaranteed a seat in your zoned neighborhood school--whether you apply now or later in the spring or summer. But if you want to consider all your options (or if your neighborhood school is so crowded that it has a waitlist) now is the time to get started.
We've researched some neighborhood schools that may have room for children outside the zone, dual language programs and unzoned schools that select via lottery in Brooklyn and Staten Island, the city's largest and smallest boroughs. The city's new elementary school directory is another useful source of information. We'll offer another post on charter school options next month.
District 13: Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, part of Park Slope & Brooklyn Heights
Arts and Letters in Fort Greene is a highly sought after school that holds a lottery for kindergarten admissions. PS 133, a small school in lower Park Slope which was displaced for several years, is moving into a new building in September. It is now unzoned and serves both districts 13 and 15. It offers dual language programs in French and Spanish. PS 11 and PS 20 in Clinton Hill usually have space for out of zone children, even though PS 20 may not let you know until suimmer. PS 9 in Prospect Heights has a dual language program that takes native Spanish speakers from out of zone. PS 307 offers the only Mandarin Chinese dual language program in the district. PS 282 in Park Slope is a traditional K-8 school that is a top pick for many out-of-zone parents.
For four weeks now yellow school buses have not been running and parents of special education students are fed up. They are asking Chancellor Dennis Walcott to intervene and work with Mayor Bloomberg to get the buses running again.
In a letter sent to the chancellor on Monday by the Citywide Council on Special Education -- a parent advisory board -- the CCSE said that what it finds most "appalling about this is that you and the Mayor believe that the DOE has no responsibility in the current bus strike negotiations."
For many students with special needs, transportation is a mandated service stipulated on a students IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Alternative modes of transportation, such as taxicabs and car services, are not working out for many families, the CCSE said.
One out of every four of the most severely disabled students in District 75 is missing school due to the lack of bus service, the letter says. That echoes testimony given at a City Council hearing last Friday by Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children and the ARISE Coalition. In an editorial in today's Daily News, Moroff writes that some 2,500 District 75 students are missing school every day.
"The city offered no plan for students who needed accessible transportation, no plan for children who needed an adult to accompany them to school and did not have a parent available, no plan for families with more than one child in different schools and no plan for families who could not afford to put out carfare twice a day and wait for reimbursement," Moroff writes.
My daughter will be entering kindergarten in 2013 and we have been zoned to a brand new school which is still under construction. I am wondering if I should take my chances for the new school, try for an established out-of zone-school or move to a neighborhood with an established school.
KG Mom in Manhattan
Dear KG Mom
New schools are enticing, and a bit scary. You picture a spanking new building with spic and span furniture, up-to-date facilities, bright lights and new technology. But you don't know much about the learning that will go on there. Like other parents, you probably have an idea of what you would like for your daughter. Some parents look for rigorous academics, some care more about the arts, others would like their kids to learn a second language and others look for great special ed programs. (And ideally there are schools that cover all those bases!)
Most parents want small classes and that is usually one of the plusses of a new school. True, in an established school you know what you're getting: usually a seasoned principal, set routines and an active PTA. But, in a new school, working with other families and staff, you will have a hand in developing programs and partnerships that will allow the school to thrive. If the principal is open to it, you can help set the tone and work closely with the school leaders. (Read about how some parents are already doing at PS 118 in Park Slope, which will open in September. They've set up a group called "Founding Families" and have their own Facebook page.) With just one or two grade levels, there will be an intimacy rarely found in a larger school.