“I learn so much that I can’t even stop,” says a giddy 4-year-old in a promotional video just released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. “There are no monsters here. It’s not scary,” explains another. “Maybe if you try school, you might like it.”

This year, more NYC families than ever before seem willing to try pre-kindergarten, and, for the first time, they are guaranteed a seat in a full-day program. About 70,000 children will attend free, universal pre-kindergarten this fall, a majority at their parents’ top choice program. The city reported that 70 percent of families received pre-k offers to their first choice school, and 82 percent got one of their top three. Many families are willing to travel, with 16 percent choosing a site outside their district as their first choice. Early childhood centers and public school programs seemed equally sought-after: Half the applicants listed an early childhood center first on their application; the other half listed a public school, according to the Department of Education

If you’re a policymaker, things are looking pretty good. Larger issues aside—like increasing and measuring diversity, say, or creating permanent and suitable pre-k spaces—the improvement in enrollment numbers seems like the just reward of this year’s more streamlined registration process and the DOE’s massive outreach effort. But what if you’re one of the families whom the stats didn’t favor?

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By Amy Zimmer, DNAInfo.com 

The number of schools with kindergarten waitlists dropped by nearly 25 percent this year — but the overall number of students stuck on those lists at their zoned schools remained nearly the same, according to Department of Education figures released Tuesday.

There were 1,239 students placed on waitlists at 51 schools they were zoned for compared to 1,242 students placed on waitlists for 63 schools last year, DOE figures show.

It's a significant drop from two years ago, when there were more than 2,300 students on waitlists at 100 schools, according to school officials, who attributed the decline to increased outreach to pre-K families, raising awareness about available kindergarten options.

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The Department of Education is churning out the offers. Last Monday, families began receiving their G&T results, and a week later, kindergarten acceptances are in. This year, 67,907 students applied to kindergarten before the Feb. 13 deadline and more than 72 percent received their first choice, compared to 71 percent last year, according to the DOE. Another 12 percent received one of their top three choices. Families applied to up to 20 schools using an online application.

About 10 percent of applicants— 6,838 families—didn’t receive offers to any of the schools listed on their application. Some received offers to their zoned school, the DOE said, 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.

Families must contact the school directly to make an appointment to pre-register by May 6. Pre-registering does not prevent families from receiving an offer at a school where they are waitlisted, applied for a gifted and talented program or entered a charter school lottery. Families will automatically remain on a waitlist for schools they listed higher on their application than the school to which they were matched.

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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. 

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(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com. Insideschools added a few clarifications based on our reporting.)

Astoria resident Janet Piechota filled out kindergarten applications earlier this year, she hoped to win a spot for her daughter at P.S. 85, which has strong music programs and other enrichment classes.

She was frustrated last week to discover that not only had her daughter Daniela not gotten into P.S. 85 — she hadn't gotten into any of the top four schools Piechota had selected, after she researched everything from the schools' dual-language classes to reviews of their parent coordinators.

Daniela was admitted to her zoned school, P.S. 234, which is well-regarded but was her mother's last choice because it appeared to her to lack some of the enrichment activities available at other nearby programs.

"I was disappointed," said Piechota. "It was a time-consuming process, to go through all these schools in advance."

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Five elementary schools have waitlists of more than 50 zoned children after the first round of kindergarten admissions and a few schools have more than doubled their waitlists from this time last year, according to a list issued by the Department of Education today. Although the number of schools that cannot accommodate all their zoned students has shrunk nearly in half since 2012 -- from 125 in 2012 to 63 this year -- overcrowding persists in some neighborhoods.

Once again, Pioneer Academy, PS 307 in Corona, Queens has the longest waitlist in the city, with 126 waitlisted zoned five-year-olds, as compared to 167 last year and 109 in 2012. PS 307, where nearly one-third of the students are new immigrants, was opened in 2008 to alleviate overcrowding in District 24.

On Manhattan's Upper West Side PS 199 has about 100 zoned students on its waitlist, up from 39 last year. PS/IS 276, one of a bevy of new downtown Manhattan schools opened over the past 10 years, has a waitlist of 52 students.

In the Bronx, gigantic PS/IS 71 has 50 kindergartners waitlisted; high-performing PS 7 in Marble Hill has 59 students on the waitlist.

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Wednesday, 12 March 2014 16:54

Kids win one-quarter of high school appeals

A glimmer of hope for 8th graders who were rejected at their high school choices: Insideschools has learned that one-quarter of the kids who appealed their high school placements last year got a seat at one of the schools to which they originally applied.

Of the 3,028 rising 9th-graders who filed appeals last year, 761 were offered a place at one of the high schools listed on their applications, according to data released by the Department of Education in response to our request under the Freedom of Information Act. Another 783 were assigned to an alternative placement, but not a school they requested.

An appeal won't work if you were rejected at one of the specialized high schools, which require an entrance exam. And it probably won't work if you are assigned to a perfectly good, appropriate school that just doesn't happen to be your first choice--if, say, you are assigned to Bard High School Early College and you wanted Beacon.

But let's say you are assigned to a school that doesn't offer chemistry and physics and you want a college prep curriculum. In that case, you may have a shot.

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Monday, 16 December 2013 13:51

Pol still fighting to fill G&T seats

Politicians and parents in November petitioned the Education Department to let qualified children fill Gifted & Talented seats that remained empty after the October enrollment deadline. In a reply last week, the DOE refused the request, saying it would be "extremely disruptive" to schools and families to allow children to enroll now.

"Office of Student Enrollment (OSE) conducted multiple rounds of waitlist offers for available seats at G&T programs citywide," wrote a DOE official in a response to Councilwoman Gail Brewer and Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell's November letter requesting the DOE allow qualified students access to empty G&T seats at two Upper West Side schools.

The DOE said that they had conducted "multiple rounds" of waitlist offers after too few families accepted offers to fill seats at PS 163 and PS 165. 

O'Donnell disputes the DOE's explanation. "I have heard from students who scored as high as the 96th to 99th percentiles on the test, and were still given no offer, although they ranked PS 165 and PS 163 as top choices in the initial process," he wrote in response to the DOE's letter.  

O'Donnell will continue to press the DOE to open up seats. He says that schools and families do not find the post-October 31st enrollment disruptive. 

Karen Alicea-Dunn has been trying to get her son, Dylan, who scored in the 96th percentile on the G&T exam, into PS 163's G&T program for two months. In November, the school told Dunn that Dylan could enroll in the general education program -- but not the G&T. Dunn isn't worried about switching elementary school programs mid-year. "I'm ready," she said.

In late November, WNYC reported that at least 24 schools citywide still have room for more kids in their G&T programs.

Download a copy of the DOE's letter response to Brewer & O'Donnell here [PDF].

Download a copy of O'Donnell's letter here [PDF].

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As many of my friends predicted, the decision of where to send Noodle for kindergarten has largely been made for me: After all the drama of G&T and charter school lotteries, we are right back where we started —  at our zoned elementary school, PS X. Despite all the research, school tours and panel discussions, not much has changed except my blood pressure. But even though I know that PS X is a good school—some would say very good—I can’t fight the feeling that something better is out there.

For me this something better is PS Y— a smaller, newer school that is out of zone, but ironically, one block closer to my apartment. Despite its good reputation, PS X has me a bit worried. In this large school, I worry that my high needs son may get lost in the shuffle. PS Y is half the size, and prides itself on special ed. Because PS Y is so new, they don’t yet have a waitlist of in-zone students, and when I called on a whim after my application was rejected in April, I was surprised to hear from the plucky parent coordinator that Noodle might have a shot at getting in.

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Q: So we all read the article in the New York Times last week about waiting lists and the extreme things some applicants do to get noticed and maybe picked. This seems to create an unnecessary amount of stress, since so few colleges take students who are waitlisted. And by May 1, we’re enrolled somewhere anyway. So what’s the point? Why don’t colleges either accept or reject people and get it over with?

A: Over the years, colleges have found the use of a waiting list to be quite helpful – well, helpful to them. On the other side of the question, just ask a student who has enrolled at her #2 college if she’d like a chance to go to her #1 school – most would be thrilled!

As colleges have become increasingly conscious of how their acceptance and enrollment rates are perceived, and how these affect the all-holy rankings, they have come to use the waiting list in a variety of ways. In general, applicants are wailtlisted for one of three reasons:

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