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.
Take the time now to meet the school's new leader, and see the facilities, if possible. Find out about the principal's background. Where did she teach previously? Does her philosophy match yours? Does she seem receptive to parent input? Is there anything you can do to help facilitate the opening process?
If it doesn't seem like a good match, apply to unzoned schools or to out of zone schools where you think there might be space. Many schools fill up with zoned kids and brothers and sisters of kids already enrolled. Before you apply, consider these questions: Will distance from school be a factor? Is your daughter a good traveler? Do you have time to take her back and forth? Will after school friendships be possible if you live far from the zoned kids? Will you be able to take part in evening activities?
Moving is a big decision (as I wrote in a recent colum) and probably not feasible to accomplish within the March 1 application deadline. Even if you choose to move, apply to your zoned school in the meantime as a backup.
Incidentally, middle and high school parents are also grappling with the same dilemma – although most won't have a brand new building to throw into the mix. The deadline for submitting middle school applications was in December, but packets of information about new middle schools are being distributed to 5th graders this month, according to the DOE's calendar. And traditionally, there are fairs introducing more than a dozen new high schools just before the second round of high school admissions in March.
Good luck in your choices. I hope everyone is pleasantly surprised.