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Our pre-k picks: Manhattan & the Bronx

Written by Lydie Raschka Wednesday, 16 April 2014 17:39

Here are our recommendations for pre-kindergarten in the Bronx and Manhattan public schools, based on our school visits and the results of the city’s parent and teacher surveys. We didn’t include some very popular schools that receive hundreds of applications for a handful of seats. Instead, we tried to find some good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed.

MANHATTAN

Lower East Side

If you live on the Lower East Side, you’re in luck. Every school in District 1 has full day pre-kindergarten classes and all offer tours to prospective parents. There are no zoned schools in the district. Some of the schools are known for their progressive philosophy and high levels of parent involvement, including Earth School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community. The Neighborhood School shares a building with PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy, which is expanding its pre-k program from one to two classes. Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin. Some schools have space for families outside the district.

Upper East Side, Midtown and downtown

District 2, a huge district that stretches from 96th Street on the East Side and 59th Street on the West Side all the way down to the Battery, has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than spots in pre-kindergarten. A brand new school, PS 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, in Chelsea, will offer two pre-k classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you’re looking for full day options popular Midtown West is opening its first pre-k class, PS 116 Mary Lindley Murray is opening two classes and PS 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens is opening one. PS 126 and PS 1 Alfred Smith are terrific schools that sometimes have room for children outside their attendance zones.

Upper West Side and Harlem

District 3 covers the west side of Manhattan. Most of the schools on the Upper West Side have far more applicants than seats, but PS 191 sometimes has seats for children outside its attendance zone. In Harlem, we loved our visits to the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet (with a hands-on engineering program and LEGO Lab) and PS 180 (which boasts a strong arts program).  We haven’t visited PS 76, but parent and teacher surveys say it has a friendly vibe and strong leadership.

East Harlem

East Harlem has long been a pioneer of innovation and school choice and is home to popular progressive schools such as Central Park East I, and Central Park East II, which receive hundreds of applicants for only 18 full day pre-k seats. Try a hidden gem like River East instead, which is opening a new pre-k class. We haven’t visited PS 102, PS 146 or PS 155 recently, but positive surveys of parents and teachers suggest they are worth considering.

Central Harlem

District 5 in Central Harlem has long had some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. However, there are a few bright spots: We loved our visit to Teachers College Community School (although competition for seats there is fierce.) Our recent visit to PS 200 suggests that it’s moving in the right direction. We haven’t visited PS 125 or PS 197 recently, but parent and teacher surveys are positive.

Washington Heights and Inwood

District 6 once had very overcrowded schools, but enrollment has declined in recent years as the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan have gentrified. Some of the most popular schools have far more applicants than seats. You may have a better chance at three schools we visited recently: Washington Heights Academy, Castle Bridge and PS 128.

BRONX

South Bronx

District 7 in the South Bronx has mostly low-performing schools, but we can recommend the pre-kindergarten at a few schools we that we have visited. PS 5 has strong leadership and a happy cohesive staff. PS 25 has an amazing science exploration center. PS 157 boasts a good arts program.

Soundview and Throgs Neck

In District 8, we enjoyed our visit to PS 152, which often takes kids from outside across its attendance zone. PS 69 and PS 304 are terrific schools but they are flooded with applicants. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t visited PS 182 in quite a while, but parent and teachers surveys say it’s a safe school with strong leadership and solid academics.

Grand Concourse, Morrisania, Crotona Park

District 9 is on the western edge of the south Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the south Bronx. Best bet here: PS 63, which our reviewer called “an oasis of calm.”

Riverdale, Wave Hill, Central Bronx

One of the most overcrowded districts in the city, District 10 is also the top-performing district in the Bronx. A few schools are adding new pre-kindergarten seats: Bronx New School and a new school opening on Webster Avenue called Bedford Park Elementary.

Northeast Bronx

District 11, covering the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn, has space opening up at Linden Tree Elementary, a new small school that strives to be attentive to children’s different learning styles. PS 160 Walt Disney is one of the best bets for getting a spot in this area with three full day classes opening in the fall and good leadership, according to teacher surveys.

Crotona Park

District 12 is smack dab in the middle of the Bronx so it’s worth checking all the bordering districts to find borough-wide options. Bronx Little School is a safe, welcoming place with high-expectations, but over 200 families applied for 18 seats in 2013. Samara Community School is a new school opening in the fall hosting one full day pre-k.

Our pre-k picks for Brooklyn

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 16 April 2014 16:23

Brooklyn is the city's largest borough and the one with most schools. Pre-kindergarten choices are as varied as the borough. In some areas of brownstone Brooklyn, pre-k programs don't meet the demand. Even parents who list 12 schools on their application will be disappointed. In other areas—such as Fort Greene or Bedford Stuyvesant—parents have more options.

Don't be afraid to look at historically low-performing schools: in some cases pre-kindergarten programs are excellent and expanding, even if the school as a whole has a long way to go. Further out in Brooklyn, half-day programs can be the norm, especially in Districts 21 and 22. We haven't found much to recommend in central Brooklyn, where school environment surveys reflect a discontent with the tone of the buildings. We advise you to take a look and let us know what you find.

Child born in 2010? Apply to pre-k by April 23

Written by Anna Schneider Wednesday, 16 April 2014 12:13

If your child turns four this year, it's time to apply to pre-kindergarten.

If you're interested in a program that's part of a regular public school, you should should submit your application, either online or in person at a borough enrollment office, by April 23 for your best chance of a getting a good seat. (If you are interested in applying to a pre-kindergarten program that's housed at a community based organization, you should apply directly to that organization. The city will be adding more seats later this spring, and we'll post a new list when we have it.) 

Unfortunately, you are not guaranteed a seat in pre-kindergarten--there simply aren't enough spaces for all the city's 4-year-olds. In neighborhoods where the zoned schools are very popular, there are hardly any pre-k seats. However, if you are willing to travel a bit, you may find a seat for your child in a neighborhood where the schools aren't so crowded, especially since the city created 4,200 new full-day seats.

Here are some pre-k basics:

Any child born in 2010 who lives in New York City may apply to a free pre-k program.

Pre-k programs in public schools or local child care centers and community organizations, 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.

About 40 percent of the city's pre-k seats are in public schools. The application process for public school pre-k is centralized and parents apply online or in person at a borough enrollment office. The deadline is April 23, 2014.

The remaining 60 percent of the city's pre-k seats are provided by Community-based organizations (CBOs) such as Y's, preschools and other childcare centers. These seats are also free and available to all New York City families with four-year-olds. Admissions to these programs continues as long as slots are available. An updated list of CBOs offering programs will be available in June.

How to find a public school pre-K program:

Pick up a pre-k directory and the expanded directory at an elementary school or borough enrollment office. You may also download the guide here. [PDF]

New York City has 32 public schools districts and each district has two pages in the directory, with a map listing the district schools and admissions information.

To find your public school district, enter your address in the DOE's school search tool or call 311.

When you have identified some schools, look at the school profiles on Insideschools.

Once you have narrowed down a list of schools, be sure to arrange a visit.

Before you tour schools, check out our video "What to Look for in an Elementary School." On your visit, you want to see well-arranged rooms with plenty of places to play. A good pre-k shouldn't be too heavy on academics; kids should be engaged, busy and happy. Scan the wall for a daily schedule that should include snacks and naptime. 

Ranking schools and submitting your public school pre-k application:

Families may apply to up to 12 schools for pre-K but are not required to choose that many.  Only list schools on your application that you want your child to attend. 

Public school admissions are not first-come, first-served. Anyone who applies by April 23 has the same chance.

After the application process closes, seats will be randomly assigned according to a list of 10 priorities, with first dibs going to families who live in the zone and have a sibling enrolled in the school. Next up is kids who live in the zone without siblings enrolled, then kids in the district, and so on.

List the programs in order of preference. If your zoned school is not your top choice, there is no disadvantage to placing it lower on your list. If you don't get your top choices, your child still has priority at your zoned school.

While there are more seats available this year, consider the 2013 numbers when choosing schools. If your top pick had a waiting list last year, you may want to consider other options.

If you live in a crowded district where pre-k seats are few and far between, like District 2's Upper East Side or District 15 in Park Slope, you'll probably need to consider CBOs and other districts where there were empty seats in 2013.

District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in East New York are unzoned. Families in these districts have top priority at all district schools.

Families who submit their public school pre-k applications by April 23 will find out in June whether they got a spot and will register at the school that month. 

Most CBOs admit children on a rolling, first-come, first-served basis, so it's best to apply early. Some CBOs also have income-eligibility requirements. Contact each program for specifics.

The DOE does not provide pre-K transportation, so parents should consider travel time to all the schools they rank.

Also, the DOE does not guarantee that all special needs will be met in every pre-kindergarten program. Parents of children with special needs may apply to pre-K through the centralized public school process and to CBO programs but should also contact their local Committee on Special Education or the Committee on Pre-School Special Education to identify the school that best meets your child's needs. See this page on the DOE's website or call 311 for more information.

For the most up-to-date information and news about new seats, Nicholas Farrell from the DOE's Office of Enrollment suggested parents should sign up for pre-k admissions email updates. Farrell also said that district offices will keep lists of open seats.

(Post updated with new information on March 4 and on April 16.)

City takes high stakes out of testing

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:14

The city has taken a big step to scale back on anxiety over state tests. A new promotion policy takes the high-stakes out of testing for grades 3-8, at least when it comes to determining who gets promoted to the next grade and who must attend summer school.

The Department of Education announced the new policy today, which, if approved by the Panel for Educational Policy in May, will mean that a student cannot be held back simply because of a low score (Level 1) on the state reading or math exam. Instead, "multiple measures" will be used to determine promotion, including report card grades and schoolwork as well as test scores.  

"We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with State law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place," said schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in a statement.

Manhattan schools join anti-test protests

Written by DNAinfo Tuesday, 08 April 2014 15:17

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com

More than 30 public elementary schools — including TriBeCa's top-ranked P.S. 234 and the Upper East Side's P.S. 59 — are set to participate in protests Friday to blast the state's standardized English exams.

The planned protests by schools in Manhattan's District 2 — which also includes Greenwich Village and Chelsea — are part of a growing anti-testing movement in some of the city's most esteemed public schools. Last week, a protest at Park Slope's P.S. 321 drew hundreds of teachers, parents and students who complained about age-inappropriate content and poorly explained multiple-choice questions that seemed to have no one right answer.

Now, the 31 Manhattan elementary schools are planning an even bigger demonstration at each of their schools Friday morning, to demand that the exams be released to the public as soon as they have been graded.

G&T: Fewer qualify; rich-poor gap persists

Written by Pamela Wheaton Friday, 04 April 2014 15:23

Nearly one-third of the 14,600 rising kindergartners who sat for Gifted & Talented assessments in January and February found out today that they qualified for one of the city's district or citywide G&T programs. That's  about six percent fewer than qualified in 2013, according to Department of Education data released Friday afternoon. The number of children who scored in the 99th percentile--the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T--programs also fell, from more than 1,450 last year to about 950 this year.

Even with the lower number of qualifiers, there are still three times as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs which have only about 300 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.

The gap in student performance between richest and poorest districts remains wide but there were gains in Harlem and Washington Heights. In Districts 4 (East Harlem), 5 (Harlem) and 6 (Washington Heights and Inwood) nearly twice as many students scored in the top percentile than did last year.

Parents were notified of their child's score today along with an application listing their progam options. Families who do not get their results by Monday, April 7, should call the DOE at 718-935-2009. Families have until April 21 to apply one of the gifted programs, but since schools are closed for spring vacation from April 14-22, parents have only next week to visit schools.  A list of open houses is posted on the DOE's website here. Letters of acceptance for regular, non-gifted, kindergarten programs will be sent during the spring break. G&T applicants won't find out until May 26 if they have been offered a spot.

City creates 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 02 April 2014 12:55

Some highly sought-after schools that lacked pre-kindergarten programs will now have them. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today the city will add more than 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats at 140 public schools in September, thanks to $300 million in funding from the state that was approved over the weekend.

There are three new programs in popular midtown Manhattan schools: Midtown West, PS 116 and PS 40. In Chinatown, PS 130 is offering a full day instead of a half-day program, and PS 124 will house three classes. In Brooklyn's District 15, the new Maurice Sendak Community School will have 66 seats, up from the 30 originally planned. PS 15 in Red Hook is offering 84 slots. PS 20 in Fort Greene will have two classes, instead of one.

In the Bronx, perennially popular Bronx New School will offer two full-day classes, not one and PS 23 in Fordham will have 48 seats. In Queens, new programs will open at PS 290 in Maspeth and PS 63 in Ozone Park and at two new schools that will open in the fall, PS 343 in Corona and PS 316 in South Ozone Park. PS 175 in Rego Park will also offer three classes. In Staten Island, 15 schools have either created new programs, added additional seats or are expanding half-day programs to full-day.

State: NYC must give space to charters

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 10:31
In New York City, a new siting process paves the way for more charter schools (via Chalkbeat New York)

The state budget bill’s expected passage includes several dramatic education policy shifts for the city, but perhaps none have been more fiercely debated than new provisions for providing new city charter schools with free or subsidized space. Now…

15 charter schools opening, apply by April 1

Written by Pauline Zaldonis Thursday, 20 March 2014 17:22

Amid the debate surrounding charter schools in the city, 15 new charter schools will be opening in the fall, adding to the 183 already operating in New York City. The majority of the new schools are part of established charter networks, including Success Academy, Achievement First and Ascend Schools. A few of the new schools are independent “mom and pop” charters that aren’t part of a larger network.

Applications for most charter schools are due by April 1 with admissions lotteries held in early April. Parents may submit applications to multiple schools at once using the online Common Charter School Application on the New York City Charter School Center website. Parents should also contact the schools that they wish to apply to directly to make sure that they understand all the application requirements. Admissions to charter schools is determined by lottery, giving priority to residents of the district where the school is located. Some charters have additional admissions priorities.

In a charter's first year, there is frequently space for out-of-district students, as some families are reluctant to take a chance on a school until it has a track record. All charter schools keep waitlists so even if you miss the application deadline, if you are interested in a school it's worth asking to be put on the waitlist.

Q: My son is a senior in high school, so we have just finished with applications and testing and expensive test prep. Now I have to start worrying about my daughter, who will be entering ninth grade next year. When the New York Times magazine devotes its cover article to the "new" SAT test, it's got to be something major! I am in a panic!

A: Everyone needs to take a deep breath about the "new and improved" SAT.  The College Board is a business. It is a huge business. Yes, it is a .org and calls itself a "not-for-profit" entity. But that lack of profit comes after taking their multi-million-dollar revenues (from the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams) and subtracting their expenses. And among their expenses are tremendous salaries for those at the top of the organization. While the current head of the College Board has an annual compensation package of $750,000, his predecessor had a compensation package of $1.3 million. Many executives at the College Board have salaries over $300,000. You want to know why test fees have increased so much over the years?

All right, to be fair, the head of the ACT company gets $1.1 million. As I said, testing is big business.