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Thursday, 08 December 2016 12:21

Child born in 2012? Apply to kindergarten now!

If you have a child who will turn five in 2017, now is the time to apply to kindergarten for the school year starting in September. Your child is guaranteed a seat regardless of when you enroll, but you'll have the best chance of getting into a school of your choice if you apply by Jan. 13.

If you want to learn more about your options, come to our kindergarten workshop Jan. 11, or buy our new book, New York City's Best Public Pre-K and Elementary Schools.

The city has kindergarten directories available online. Hard copies are available at local elementary schools and Family Welcome Centers.

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For nearly two decades, parents have looked to Clara Hemphill to help them find a good public school for their child. This Fourth Edition of "New York City's Best Public Pre-K and Elementary Schools A Parents' Guide" features all-new reviews of more than 150 of the city's best public elementary schools, based on visits and in-depth interviews by Hemphill and the InsideSchools staff.

This essential guide uncovers the "inside scoop" on schools (the condition of the building, special programs, teacher quality, and more), includes a checklist of things to look for on a school tour, and incorporates new listings of charter schools and stand-alone pre-kindergarten programs. It also provides the hard facts on:

  • Total school enrollment
  • Test scores for reading and math
  • Ethnic makeup
  • Who gets in?
  • Admissions requirements
  • Teaching methods and styles
  • Special education services
  • How to apply

The book will be available on Dec. 13,  just in time for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten application season! You can look for it at your local bookstore or order online here.

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Wednesday, 30 November 2016 11:00

New report: Five steps to integrate schools

The City can do much more to foster economic integration of elementary schools than the small scale efforts it has made to date. That's the conclusion of our new report, Five Steps to Integrated Schools, based on our visits to 150 schools across the city over the past two years.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested that school segregation is intractable because it is largely a result of housing patterns, that is, that schools are segregated because housing is. And Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said she favors "organic" or voluntary school integration efforts.

There's no question that that persistent housing segregation makes school integration difficult in many neighborhoods; however, as our earlier report shows, the city has segregated, high-poverty schools even in many integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods.

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Applying to elementary school in NYC has been compared to having a second job, but things may just have gotten a bit easier for families. For the first time, the Department of Education is staging “It’s Elementary!” admissions events in all 32 city school districts beginning on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Enrollment officials will cover the major elementary admissions entry points in one evening—pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and gifted and talented programs. How the DOE manages this more complicated format remains to be seen, but it’s quite a boost from the handful of borough-wide admissions events offered last year. 

Families may begin applying to kindergarten on Nov. 30.

“We’re committed to making it easier for families to find and enroll in the school that’s right for them,” Deputy Chancellor for Strategy and Policy Josh Wallack said in a DOE press release. “We are confident the It’s Elementary! events are a real step forward—they’ll bring all the information families need for Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Gifted & Talented under one roof, and into every neighborhood—and we look forward to building on this progress.”

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One day last school year, a girl in Fanny Roman's kindergarten class at PS 244 in Flushing, Queens arrived bubbling with excitement about her new shoes. With Roman's encouragement, she began tracing classmates' feet on paper and constructing "shoes," using pipe cleaners for laces. Her enthusiasm proved contagious; in response, Roman read poetry and picture books about shoes and students set up a play shoe store of their own, with different-size shoes in boxes, labeled "Jellies" or "Sneakers," as they categorized by size and even priced their wares. In their writing, they started using words such as "Velcro," buckles" and "shoelaces."

Welcome to "choice time." In a number of New York City elementary school kindergarten classes, it revives, in modified fashion, the once-common play-as-learning "free time" that's been driven almost to extinction in favor of whole-class instruction, textbooks, worksheets, and other elements of more rigorous education in the Common Core era.

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All 31 city school districts will offer gifted and talented (G&T) elementary school programs next fall—although in districts 7, 12, 16 and 23, G&T will begin in 3rd grade, not kindergarten. In response to the clamor around the city for more programs in poor and primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods, the Department of Education (DOE) announced today that it will open the 3rd grade G&T classes in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, areas which have not had G&T programs in recent years because too few students earned qualifying scores on citywide tests.

Current 2nd-graders in these districts who apply will be evaluated for G&T based on "multiple measures" such as academic performance, attendance, curiousity, motivation and being a fast learner. 

All 2nd-graders may apply, said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield, but "specific outreach will be done to families of students who are above grade level to encourage them to apply." 

"It's a fantastic idea," said Robin Aronow, a social worker and schools consultant in Manhattan. "The advantage of it, in particular in those districts, is that you have teacher recommendations rather than being dependent on a kid doing well on a test ... you're able to take into account what kids are demonstrating in school."

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There's been a lot of talk on the Upper West Side about "controlled choice" as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in the elementary schools. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.

The benefit is this: everyone, regardless of their address or income, would get a shot at some of the most popular elementary schools in the district that runs from 59th Street to 122nd Street. Controlled choice puts a thumb on the scale for low-income children who want to attend a middle class school (or middle class children who want to attend a high-poverty school).

But there is a crippling drawback: Controlled choice is, in essence, a form of rationing. By itself, it does nothing to improve the quality of schools—or to increase the number of schools to which parents willingly send their children.

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The Bed-Stuy Parents Committee is a group of about 250 neighborhood parents who are choosing to work together to help improve the district's schools where they hope to enroll their children. Shaila Dewan, one of the parent organizers, shared advice for those looking to do the same in other parts of the city.

Join parent listservs
We connected primarily on the parent Yahoo listservs in our neighborhood. We put up fliers before meetings—we would send out a link so people could print the fliers themselves and post them. We printed little business cards with our web address to hand out at playgrounds. We built a mailing list using MailChimp. We asked DNAinfo to do an article. Eventually, we found a surprising amount of traffic was driven by word of mouth.

Survey members to gather ideas
We came together without a specific agenda and we explored various options. We listened to what people wanted. One of our members conducted a large member survey and we browbeat people into filling it out until we had almost 90 completed—it's still invaluable to us.

Listen & learn from success stories
Our first few meetings were devoted to listening and learning. Speakers talked to us about subjects of interest, like progressive education. We identified PS 11 in Clinton Hill as a successful model for what we wanted to do in a similar gentrifying neighborhood and we had a panel discussion where PS 11 parents and administrators spoke. We invited the District 16 Community Education Council president and the district superintendent do a Q&A. We closely followed debates over rezoning in Dumbo and the Upper West Side.

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Kindergarten letters went out today to the more than 69,000 families of 5-year-olds who applied by January 20 for admission to kindergarten in September, 2016. Seventy-one percent of the applicants got an offer from their first choice, similar to last year's 72 percent, according to the Department of Education. Another 13 percent received one of their top three choices. Families could apply to up to 12 schools using an online application.

About 10 percent of applicants—7,237 families—didn't receive offers to any of the schools listed on their application. Some received offers to their zoned school even though they didn't list it. In the three districts where there are no zoned schools, and in overcrowded areas where applicants were edged out of their zoned schools, students were offered slots in another district school.

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Got a child born in 2011? Get your kindergarten application in by Wednesday, Jan. 20. The original due date of Jan. 15 was extended to give more parents a chance to get their applications in.

Full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—in New York City 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. You may apply to up to 12 schools online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center. You'll find out in March where your child is accepted.

If you haven't already, pick up an elementary school directory for your borough, neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. 

Here are answers to some common questions and misconceptions!


What should I do before I apply?

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? If you're still uncertain of whether it's a good fit, talk to parents on the playground and read the comments on our profile pages. 

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 only 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 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 kindergarten directory 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 too different this year unless there has been rezoning.

This admissions season, the DOE is promoting a new pilot program intended to increase diversity in city schools. Seven schools participating in the program will give increased admissions priority to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, are English language learners or are in the child welfare system. “Students learn from the diverse experiences and cultures of their fellow students, and it’s important that our schools match the diversity of our City," Chancellor Carmen Farina said in a DOE press release. 

How do I apply to a dual language program?

More than 100 schools offer dual language programs and the list of schools offering programs is growing. In dual language, students receive instruction in both English and another language. Spanish, Mandarin and French are among the most common languages offered but others include Korean, Japanese, Polish, Arabic and Russian. Next fall there will be a German program starting at PS 17 in Williamsburg! You apply directly to the dual language program on your application. The goal for dual language is to have a 50-50 split of native English speakers and native speakers of the other language offered. Zoned students receive preference in admission, but out of zone students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting. 

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.

Even if you are applying to a G&T program for your child, you must still apply to kindergarten by Jan. 15. 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 still be accepted online, in person and over the phone after Jan. 15, almost until letters are sent in mid-March, according to the Enrollment Office, but you will receive your 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.

How do I apply to a charter school?

You apply to charter schools separately from district schools and most applications are due by April 1, 2016. You can apply to multiple charter schools on a single application. Find the link to the common application on the New York City Charter School Center's website. Applications are also available on school websites or may be handed out in person when you visit the school. 

More questions?

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.

 

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