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Brooklyn mom Jordan Scott has spent months searching for pre-kindergarten for her daughter—touring seven schools, scouring websites, and asking friends' advice. One school filled its seats before the city even published the pre-k directory. Another suggested she pay a $1,000 deposit to secure a seat—although pre-k is supposed to be free.
Public schools, charter schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, private nursery schools, Head Start programs, child care centers, settlement houses and community organizations are all taking part in Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious effort to offer free pre-kindergarten to 70,000 4-year-olds this year. And, while Scott is thrilled by the prospect, navigating the application process has been a production.
"It's very confusing. This has been my part-time job since last fall," said Scott, one of the 22,000 parents who submitted an application for pre-kindergarten on March 16, the first day of the month-long application period. "I had a spreadsheet and online map. I spent so much money on babysitting that I just took my daughter along on some of the tours."
Colleges' reliance on part-time, "contingent" faculty who work without employment benefits and are generally paid far less than full-time, permanent teachers is not a new problem: It has been going on for over 30 years. But disenchanted part-time faculty—and full-time faculty who agree with them—have become increasingly vocal about the practice.
Not only is the hiring of large numbers of contingent or "adjunct" faculty members poor labor practice, but, according to Professor Ellen Schrecker of Yeshiva University, it affects "the education of most students, especially undergraduates, in a very negative way." Schrecker was interviewed for the February 25, 2015 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education during the week that had been declared a period of national action by part-time faculty. Adjuncts and their supporters wanted to call attention to their working conditions, which usually involve low pay, no benefits, inadequate office space, and little or no chance of promotion. For students, the adjunct situation involves constant teacher turnover, the inability to form meaningful or lasting relationships with teachers and working with a demoralized faculty.
It seems the blocks are stacked in Mayor de Blasio's favor. One day into the pre-k enrollment process, nearly 22,000 families had applied, up from 6,500 in the first day last year. By the end of the first week, some 37,000 families had signed up, according to the Daily News. If the mayor gets his wish, the city will serve 70,000 pre-k students in fall 2015.
Last year, the mayor's fast-paced citywide rollout of more than 53,000 pre-k seats was unprecedented and largely successful, although the timing and logistics were far from headache-free. Some popular schools had far more applicants than seats available, while others remained under-enrolled, and parents had to navigate separate application systems for district schools and early education centers.
Although inconsistencies may persist around the city, this year promises some relief with a (mostly) single application. If you have a child born in 2011, you can apply online, by phone at 718-935-2067 or in person at a family welcome center now through Friday, April 24. You may list up to 12 pre-k programs including district schools and full-day New York City Early Education Centers (NYCEECs). Those interested in charter schools or half-day programs at a NYCEEC, however, should still contact the program directly.
The Department of Education released its list of 20 high schools that received the most applications this year, and Townsend Harris High School in Queens, with 5,540 applicants, was at the top. It was one of five high school programs that received more than 5,000 applications from 8th-graders in 2015.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ELRO), a small school that limits enrollment to Manhattan's District 2 students, was second most popular with 5,376 applicants. ELRO continues to get thousands of applications from students throughout the city even though those coming from outside of the district have little chance of getting accepted.
Beacon High School, which moves to a new building in Hell's Kitchen in September, was number three, garnering 5,255 applications for 300 seats. Beacon, like some other popular and very selective schools, still has a few openings for students with special needs. Schools that screen applicants for test scores and grades have been charged with attracting and enrolling more students who require special education services for at least 20 percent of the school day. Many came up short in the first round of high school admissions.
High school acceptance letters went out last week and the good news is that 92 percent of 8th graders who applied got one of their choices. Of those, 76 percent got one of their top three picks. The bad news? Once again, thousands of kids were disappointed: eight percent of the more than 75,000 applicants didn't get accepted anywhere. That is still better than last year, when 10 percent of applicants received no match.
If you were one of the 5,800 8th graders who wasn't matched to a high school (or if you're unhappy with your match) it's time to look at the list of the schools that still have space (pdf). There is a wide range of large and small schools with available seats, including several good arts programs, but for the first time in more than a decade there are no new schools opening.
Most of the top performing selective schools have a handful of seats only for students with special needs. This year those seats are reserved for students who receive "special education services for more than 20 percent of the instructional school day," according to the Department of Education. If you don't know whether you qualify, ask your guidance counselor to check in the online student enrollment system (SEMS).
School representatives will be at the second-round high school fair from 11 am to 2 pm on March 14 and 15 at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 66th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. You can also meet with guidance counselors at the fair to help consider your options.
Anxious 8th and 9th-graders are still waiting to learn where they will attend high school next fall. [Schools can pick up letters on Thursday, March 5 and will be distributed Thursday or Friday.] The 2nd round high school fair will be held in Manhattan the weekend of March 14-15.
The Round 2 fair is for students who aren't accepted by any schools they listed on their applications submitted last December, those who want to apply to a school other than the one they were matched to and students who did not apply in the first round. At the fair, families can meet representatives from schools that still have seats available and they can talk to DOE admissions representives and guidance counselors about their options.
If your child turns 4 this year, he or she is eligible for free pre-kindergarten, either in a public school or at a site run by a community organization. You may apply between March 16-April 24. The de Blasio administration gets an A for effort in its rapid expansion of pre-kindergarten, with more than 30,000 new seats last fall and another 20,000 planned for this coming fall. But what is the quality of these new programs?
Even though the city is rapidly expanding free all-day pre-k programs, demand still outstrips supply in many neighborhoods. The staff of Insideschools and a panel of experts will tell you how to find a good program for your child and to navigate the application process. Josh Wallack, chief strategy officer of the Department of Education and an expert in early childhood, will be joining the panel.
Q: I've been denied by two schools already and now I'm waiting for the decisions from my other colleges. One school has asked me for my first-semester grades as well as an essay that explains why my grades have been inconsistent. Is this a good sign, or not? I have such low confidence now, and I'm worried about being admitted anywhere. Am I on the right track?
A: This will come as news to you, but ALL colleges to which students have applied—even colleges to which they have been admitted early—ask high schools to send first-semester grades. They want to be sure that all applicants are keeping up with their academics.
Q: My son is interested in a school that is very popular but has the reputation of not giving students access to "real professors" until the 2nd or 3rd year. Instead, they use a lot of "adjunct" faculty. When I asked the representative of this school about this at a college fair (much to my son's embarrassment), he said, "all our teachers are professors." How do I find out the truth?
A: Remember the TV show that said "the truth is out there"? Well, the truth about adjunct faculty is out there, too, and it's not pretty. Don't expect complete truth from admissions representatives—their job is to bring in as many applications as possible.
Adjunct faculty—also called contingent faculty—teach part-time, maybe one or two courses a semester. They are usually not given the same benefits as full-time staff; they have no health insurance or retirement plan. Therefore, they are much cheaper for the school to hire.
There are two kinds of adjunct faculty: those who teach in addition to their other, regular full-time career, and those who depend upon their adjunct teaching for a living. An example of the first is a lighting specialist who works full-time at a theater but may teach a class on theatrical lighting at a nearby college. This is not exploitation; she is an active professional sharing her knowledge with students, and the college gets someone with expertise that none of their other teachers has. In the second example, teachers—most of whom have masters' degrees or doctorates—are paid anywhere from $1,300 to $1,900 per course, per semester. Obviously, one cannot live on that income, and so the adjuncts need to work at two or three schools to make ends meet.
Tomorrow, Feb. 18, is the last day for parents of children born in 2010 to apply to kindergarten for September 2015.
You may apply online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center (formerly known as an enrollment office). You'll find out in April where your child has been assigned.
Unlike pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—for all children who turn 5 during the calendar year. Children have the right to attend their zoned school (space permitting) and most do, but you may apply to other schools as well. The application allows parents to apply to up to 12 schools and submit the form online. Welcome news for parents who don't speak English: This year applications are available in nine languages and translators are on-hand for those who apply in person, or by calling 718-935-2009 between 8 am and 6 pm.
This year's elementary school directories are also better organized than previous years', neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. (Charter schools are listed in the back. Charters require a separate application and have a different due date: April 1, 2015).
Here are answers to some common questions.
What should I do before I apply?
If you haven't already done so, visit the school! You want to see the school to see if it's a good fit. Watch our short video: "What to look for on a school tour." Check a school's website or call the parent coordinator to see when tours and open houses are scheduled. The DOE lists some tour dates here. Read the school's profile on Insideschools and check out InsideStats. Do teachers recommend the school to parents? What's the average class size? Is bullying a problem?
How many schools should I apply to?
Apply to as many schools as you are interested in. There's no strategic advantage in listing just one school. The key is to rank the schools in the order that you like them. Do not list any schools you are wary about. If you want your child to attend your zoned school, list that first—or just list the zoned school. If you are concerned about overcrowding and being sent to another school, list your next favorite school to ensure that you are not assigned to a school you did not select. Keep in mind that all schools first accommodate their own zoned kids before accepting others. (The eight admissions priorities for zoned schools are spelled out in the directories and in the Chancellor's Regulation 101.
Most schools are able to accept all zoned students and if you are not accepted in the first round, you are automatically placed on a waitlist. In fact, if you list other schools, and do not get an offer from any of them, you will remain on a waitlist of schools you ranked higher than the school where you were placed. Last year some waitlisted families got offers from out-of-zone and out-of-district schools starting in June and continuing into October. If you do your research, remain persistent and are willing to wait, you may end up with several choices.
What if I don't like my zoned school?
Consider unzoned and charter schools as well as other zoned schools in your district. (Three districts have no zoned schools: District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville.)
You don't have to apply to your zoned school but keep in mind that if you are not accepted by any other school, you will most likely be assigned to your zoned school. However you will be waitlisted at the other schools and there is usually lots of movement in the spring as families accept offers to gifted programs, private schools or move. Keep in touch with schools you are interested in to make sure they know you still want a spot.
You can see in the school listings which schools had space for students outside of the zone last year and which had a waitlist after the first round of admissions; it's not likely to be much different this year.
A handful of new schools, both zoned and unzoned, are opening in the Bronx, Queens. Don't overlook those. If you like the leadership, you may want to become part of the school's first class. A new school frequently has openings beyond the school zone.
How do I apply to a dual language program?
More than 100 schools offer dual language programs, where students receive instruction in both English and another language. This year the city changed its kindergarten application process and you no longer apply directly to a dual language program using a separate code on the application. Instead, you apply only to the general ed program of that school, indicating your child's native language and your preference for dual language when prompted on the application. When accepted by the school, your child will be called in for an interview to determine her language proficiency. In April schools will conduct language assessments before making final placement decisions. The goal for dual language is for half of the students to be native speakers of another language, so while zoned students receive preference in admission, out of zone students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting. The catch is, you won't find out until late in the process whether you've got a dual language seat. Make sure you stay in contact with the school to let them know of your continuing interest. See our post "What's new with dual language" for more information.
What about gifted and talented programs?
The admissions timeline, and the application, for gifted and talented programs is different than general kindergarten admissions. Families signed up in November for G&T testing in January and February. The results of the tests will not be sent to families until early April. Qualifying students then apply to programs and will find out in late May if they have got a spot.
Regardless of whether you are applying to a G&T program for your child, you must still apply to kindergarten between Jan. 7 and Feb. 18. If your child is later accepted to a G&T program you'll have a choice of the school you were matched with on the application and the G&T program.
What if my child has special education needs?
Children with special needs also go through the general application process; every school is supposed to offer needed special education services, although in practice this doesn't always happen. Watch our video: "Touring schools for your special needs child." If your child needs a wheelchair accessible site, you can note that on the application.
What if I move after the application due date or I miss the deadline?
If you move after you submit your application but before kindergarten offers are made, you may call the Department of Education, or visit a welcome center, to give them your new address. You will not be able to submit a new application at that time but the DOE will most likely assign you to your new zoned school. If you don't like that placement, you can reach out to other schools in the late spring to ask to be placed on a waiting list.
If you miss the deadline for applying, late applications will be accepted online, over the phone, and in person for several weeks after Feb. 18, but families who apply late will receive an offer later in the spring. Those who wait until later in the spring or summer to apply, will go directly to their zoned school, or school of interest, to register.
The information in the directory is pretty comprehensive and straightforward but if you still have questions, or want to talk to a DOE official in person, call the DOE's enrollment office at 718-935-2009 and see the DOE's kindergarten page for more information.