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Kindergarten options in Brooklyn are as diverse as the borough itself. In the largest districts, schools are packed and most families attend their neighborhood schools. Others have room for students from out of zone, and even out of district. Charters crowd central Brooklyn but have little presence in northern and western Brooklyn. Magnet programs and dual language programs give parents options in some neighborhoods. In other areas, waitlists may present challenges but persistence can pay off.
In Staten Island, the city's smallest borough, there is much less school choice -- only one unzoned school and a few charters.
Here's a rundown.
District 13: Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, part of Park Slope & Brooklyn Heights
Community Roots Charter School and Arts and Letters in Fort Greene are highly sought after schools that hold lotteries and give preference to district families. PS 11 and PS 20 in Clinton Hill usually have space for out of zone children. PS 9 in Prospect Heights and PS 133 in Park Slope have gotten much more popular with local parents, but often have space, but parents may have to stay on a waitlist until August. PS 9's dual language program takes native Spanish speakers from out of zone and PS 133's French, and new Spanish, dual language programs do as well. PS 282 in Park Slope is a traditional school, with a district gifted program, that is a top pick for many out of zone parents. (Its gifted program is only open to district students, though.)
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.
PS 85, Judge Charles Vallone School, in Astoria has a gifted program with a science focus open to children citywide.
The Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology on the Queens College Campus admits children by lottery from across the borough.
The Department of Education has not updated its zone maps to reflect zoning changes on the Upper East Side, lower Manhattan and the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, so parents who call 311 to find out the name of their neighborhood school to register their kindergartners may get inaccurate information, Insideschools has learned. Schools affected on the Upper East Side are PS 158, PS 290, PS 151 and a new school, PS 527 which will open in September on East 91st Street in the Our Lady of Grace building. Schools affected in lower Manhattan are PS 89, PS 276, PS 397 and a new school, Peck Slip, which will open in the DOE headquarters in September.
Clara Hemphill, along with the Insideschools staff members and other school experts, will offer guidance about what to look for in an elementary school, how and when to register, and how to explore your options if you're not happy with the schools in your neighborhood.
We'll cover gifted and talented programs, magnet schools, unzoned schools, special education and options for children learning to speak English.
Panelists will include Sonya hooks, senior director of the Education Department's charter school office, Robin Aronow of School Search NYC, Randi Levine, staff attorney at Advocates for Children, and Lainie Leber of the DOE's magnet program office.
A Q&A session will follow the presentation at 8 p.m.
The event is co-sponsored by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.
You can post your questions in comments below.
We’ve heard a lot of scary stories about kindergarten waitlists at very popular schools, but what about good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed? Insideschools has compiled a list of Manhattan schools that accept children from outside their immediate neighborhoods. We’ll be posting similar lists for other boroughs soon.
For this list, we have concentrated on schools that don’t require a "gifted and talented" exam. All a parent has to do is apply between now and March 2--and hope there are seats available. Call the schools directly for details. These schools fall in a couple of categories:
--Magnet programs. These schools receive federal money to develop a theme, such as science or technology. They give first preference to children who live in their attendance zone, but usually have room for children from across a district. Some also have room for children outside the district.
--Dual language programs. These programs are designed to make children fluent readers and writers of English and another language: Spanish, French or Chinese. Instruction alternates between the two languages. Typically, half the children speak English at home and half speak the other language. Zoned children get preference, but others may apply.
--Unzoned schools. These schools accept children from a particular district. A few accept children from all five boroughs.
--Good neighborhood schools. Children who are zoned for the school get preference, but sometimes there are extra seats, even though you may not find out until August.
--Charter schools. These accept children by lottery. (You have until April to apply.)
Lower East Side
In District 1 on the Lower East Side, there are no zoned neighborhood schools. Everybody has to make a choice. Preference goes to children who live in the district, but there are sometimes spots for out-of-district children, including Brooklynites.
Long-time favorites are The Neighborhood School, The Earth School, and PS 184—which will most likely fill up with District 1 kids this year. (Note: out-of-district families who are willing to wait until August may snag a seat). Out-of-district children may have a better chance at the Children’s Workshop School and East Village Community School. Also consider PS 20, which has a nice dual language program in English and Mandarin. PS 63 is gaining in popularity. The Girls Preparatory Charter School offers a single-sex option.
Downtown, the Village and Midtown
Forget PS 234 or PS 41 if you live out of zone. Those popular schools have long wait-lists even for their zoned kids. There are some other options, however. PS 150 and Midtown West are sought-after unzoned schools for District 2. PS 33 and PS 11 are zoned schools that may have room for other kids who live in District 2. A new school, Peck Slip or PS 343, will be opening in the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse. See the District 2 CEC website for details. New schools often have space for out-of-zone kids in their first year.
Upper East Side
The good news: the Upper East Side will have some new buildings, easing overcrowding. PS 267 and PS 59 are moving into new buildings in the fall, and PS 267 may have room for out-of-zone kids. A third school, PS 527, will open in the former parochial school, Our Lady of Good Council, at 323 East 91st Street. It, too, may have space for out-of-zone students. See the District 2 CEC website for details.
Ella Baker is a progressive K-8 school that has long accepted children from all five boroughs.
Upper West Side
PS 199 won’t have room for out-of-zone kindergartners, but other District 3 schools may. Consider English-Spanish dual language programs at PS 84, PS 87, PS 163 and PS 75. In addition, PS 84 has a French-English dual language program. These schools mostly limit admission to District 3 students, but French-speakers from out of district may be eligible for PS 84.
Manhattan School for Children accepts children from across District 3.
The birthplace of school choice, District 4 in East Harlem has welcomed out-of-zone and out-of-district children for decades. Central Park East I, Central Park East II and River East are small progressive schools. The Bilingual Bilcultural School, PS 57 and PS 171 are also popular choices, but they give preference to kids who live in the zone.
District 6 offers a number of choices for parents who want to look beyond their neighborhood school, including Muscota New School, Amistad Dual Language School, Hamilton Heights School, Washington Heights Academy and PS 178, The Professor Juan Bosch School.
For more on these and other tips on how to apply to elementary school, attend the Insideschools workshop in Manhattan on Feb. 7.
For some parents, applying to kindergarten has become a second job.
They are zoned for schools that are failing, overcrowded or unsafe. They make phone calls, search websites and seek advice in hurried conversations at pre-school pick-up or on playgrounds to find out what schools are good and have space for out-of-zone kids. They make appointments to go on an overwhelming number of school tours and arrive at work late. They traverse the district, the borough and sometimes the city trying to find a good school that has available seats.
Dao Tran sends her daughter to the pre-kindergarten program she is zoned for at PS 49 in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, where one-third of the children are reading at grade level. But she hopes she will not have to return next year. "The school depresses me," she said.
In the midst of the kindergarten application season, the Department of Education has posted its first-ever directory of all public elementary schools in the city. The listing indicates which are zoned schools, which are unzoned, and which have gifted and talented, dual language or magnet programs.
The 80-page 2012-2013 directory [PDF] should be an especially helpful tool for parents of five-year-olds seeking alternatives to their neighborhood schools. It explains the kindergarten application process, defines the priorities for admission to each program, and how the waitlist works for schools with more applicants than available space. All parents of incoming kindergartners may apply individually to as many schools as they wish -- but the best odds of admission to a school you aren't zoned for is at a school with special programs.
Parents of kids with lopsided abilities despair of finding the right educational fit: for the math whiz who has dyslexia; the child with a photographic memory who can’t sit still; the ace test-taker who struggles to get along with her peers. These kids are Twice Exceptional, often abbreviated as 2e. They’re super smart, but profoundly challenged. Most have Individualed Education Programs (IEP), specifying special education services. They just don’t fit into the public school system.
Now the Education Department is telling schools they must admit and meet the needs of these students within the context of their school as part of the special education reform rolled out last year. On January 13, Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a letter to principals saying: “choice, non-zoned and screened schools will be asked to admit and serve a percentage of students with disabilities equivalent to the percentage of students with disabilities in their district or borough.” said Lauren Katzman, director of special education at the DOE. “There have been targets [enrollment numbers] all along. The change is we’re saying you have to meet your targets.”
On January 19, dozens of parents turned out for a meeting hosted by the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) featuring a panel of educators and Education Department officials including Katzman. They were not surprised to learn that there are no programs designed specifically for 2e kids, moreover the Department of Education does not have “clean data” showing how many 2e’s there are in the system: “Gifted and Talented is not tracked by disability yet but the number is extremely low,” said Katzman.
Mayor Bloomberg recommends that you visit a school before enrolling in kindergarten. So why won't some schools let parents in?
"We recommend that you call schools of interest to schedule a time for a visit," states the kindergarten admissions page of the city's Elementary School Directory. Good idea. The best way to get the feel of a school you are considering enrolling your child in is to take a tour, see the facilities and peek into the classrooms.
But what if the schools you wanted to visit were very reluctant to open their doors to prospective parents, allowed only zoned parents to visit, or refused to offer tours outright? Unthinkable? Not if you happen to live in Districts 20, 21 and others in Brooklyn.
While doing research for a presentation for prospective parents of kindergarten children, I found myself calling up District Community Education Councils as well as a dozen or so schools, searching for information on the availability of school tours. While CEC personnel in Districts 20 and 21 sought to be helpful, they drew a blank when it came to the subject of elementary school tours. They seemed surprised by the question. The only answer they could give me was to contact each school.
Contacting the schools took much patience and several phone calls before I was able to get a firm answer. My results: Most of the schools that were willing to give parents tours made it clear that they gave tours only to parents whose kids were zoned for the school. Some of the schools I called gave no tours at all, leaving parents to make an "informed" choice without much real information to base it on.
If Education Department officials really want there to be "school choice," how about letting parents see a school before we send our kids there? What do you say, Education Mayor?
The Haves and Have Nots of Elementary School Tours
Tours are offered at:
• P.S. 682 The Academy of Talented Scholars Dist.20
• P.S. 686 Brooklyn School of Inquiry (citywide G&T) Dist.20
• P.S. 177 The Marlboro Dist.21
• P.S. 97 The Highlawn Dist. 21
• P.S. 101 The Verrazano Dist.21
• P.S. 212 Lady Deborah Moody Dist.21
• P.S. 215- Morris H. Weiss School Dist. 21
Tours are not offered at:
• P.S. 247 Dist. 20
• P.S./I.S. 229 Dyker Dist. 20
• P.S. 186 Dr. Irving A. Gladstone Dist.20
• P.S.128 Bensonhurst Dist.21
• P.S. 315 Midwood Dist. 22
• P.S. 235 Lenox, Dist. 18
The Education Department is taking some steps to address the city's annual pile of nightmare stories about kindergarten enrollment. But the underlying issue of too many kids for the number of seats in some neighborhoods will persist.
First up, the DOE may close "non-mandatory" programs at schools that cannot find spots for all of their zoned students. "It is the primary obligation of zoned schools to serve zoned students," the proposed wording reads. While no specifics are offered, it is likely that gifted and talented programs and dual language programs may disappear from some packed schools. This year PS 153 in Maspeth, Queens, which had close to 30 kids on its kindergarten waitlist last March, is no longer accepting kindergarteners into its G and T program.