(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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
In what's become an unfortunate annual occurence for New York City families, more than 2,300 children are waitlisted for kindergarten seats at 105 schools, according to the Education Department. Two of the hardest hit neighborhoods are Sunset Park in District 15 and Corona in District 24 in Queens. In both neighborhoods, the DOE is trying a new strategy to deal with overcrowding: opening “overflow” schools to absorb some of the waitlisted kindergarteners.
One overflow school will open in Sunset Park in the fall with three kindergarten classes. The new school, Sunset Park Avenues, is unzoned and will only accept children who are assigned to the school after landing on waitlists at other area schools.
“A portion of waitlisted students from 15K094 [PS 94] and 15K169 [PS 169] may receive alternate offers” to Sunset Park Avenues, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed. The families of kindergartners assigned to the school will get letters from the DOE’s Office of Enrollment, he said.
It's going to be a Wild West waiting game for anxious prospective pre-kindergarten parents this year.
Even though acceptance letters don't go out until June 11, one Brooklyn school has already created an on-line waitlist in an effort to limit the chaos.
"We have not received any guidance from the DOE," said Charmain Derrell, parent coordinator at PS 9 in Prospect Heights. "We are organizing it ourselves so we're not swamped right before school lets out."
Siblings will get preference, and then it is first-come first-serve, Derrell said. But DOE officials warned that waitlists shouldn't be in place before parents know where their children have been accepted. They promised to clarify the process this week.
A change in special education enrollment will likely have some already overcrowded schools coping with a large influx of kindergarten students in the fall.
In past years, most special education students were placed in schools that had space or offered the kinds of classes that could serve them. This year, in an effort to allow more special education students to attend their local schools, most will be enrolled at their community school.
The problem is that some schools that had big kindergarten wait lists last year also had a very low percentage of special needs students, compared with nearby schools. That means the new plan for sending more special education children to their zoned schools could bring even more kindergarteners to the doors of packed schools this fall.