Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.

It's time for 7th-graders to be thinking about applying to high school. The Department of Education announced key dates for rising 8th-graders including its annual series of July high school admissions information sessions.

The 2017 high school directory is online, and paper copies are available for every 7th-grader at schools and at Family Welcome Centers. In addition to the 600-page book that lists every city high school, there are now individual directories for each borough. Students may see at a glance the different kinds of programs in each borough and what the particular challenges are for students applying. 

In another change, the directory now makes it easier to understand the odds of acceptance to a school whether you are in the pool of general education (GE) students or are a student with a disability (SWD). For each school there's information on the number of GE and SWD seats available, how many applicants there were for each category in the previous year and whether or not those seats were filled.

Pre-kindergarten offer letters went out earlier this month to nearly 68,000 city children born in 2012, and 85 percent got an offer to one of their top three choices; 71 percent to their first choice. Those who didn't get a seat at one of the schools they listed on their application were assigned to a different program, according to the Department of Education. Every 4-year-old is guaranteed a slot in a full-day program at a public school, a pre-k center run by the DOE or at an early education center—although not necessarily at the school or program closest to home.

This year 11 percent of applicants—7,386—were matched to a program they didn't apply to. Most of them were offered a program in their district and 17 percent were given one in their borough. 

If you like what you got, make sure you pre-register at the program or school by May 27, 2016 (the deadline was extended one week from May 20.) If you're not happy with your choice or just want to keep looking, here's what you need to know.

Accept a placement

Children will automatically be placed on waitlists for schools listed above the one they were assigned to. Unless you have a fallback plan like private or parochial school (or are moving to New Jersey!), it's best to accept your offer while you pursue other options. Accepting the seat you were offered will not impact your ability to move off the waitlist at another school or to apply again in a second round. May 27 is the deadline to accept an offer and pre-register at the school. May 20 is still the deadline to submit your application for Round 2. 

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."

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.

Huge neighborhood schools in Queens topped the list of the 20 most sought-after high schools in 2016, according to data released by the Department of Education today. That's not surprising in a borough where most popular high schools are over-crowded and operating with staggered start times.

With 9,468 applications, Francis Lewis received the most applications. Second was Forest Hills High School with 8,375 applicants. Both schools have sizeable zoned programs, giving preference to students who live in the neighborhood, as well as offering themed programs open to anyone.

High school acceptance letters arrived Friday for the more than 75,000 8th-graders who submitted applications in December. Ninety-three percent of them went home knowing they were accepted by a high school; the remaining 7 percent came up empty-handed and must apply again, choosing from a list of schools that still have room. (See our picks here.)

The number of Black and Hispanic students accepted at the highly competitive specialized exam high schools dropped, prompting Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to once again call for "strategies to foster diversity at these schools."

The city touted gains made by students with disabilities who were accepted in higher numbers than ever before by some of the most selective schools, not including the specialized high schools. 

Here's a rundown of the results.

Monday, 08 February 2016 15:54

DOE showcases school programs that work

If you want to see some schools that work—maybe to get some ideas for your own child's school—you might want to take a look at some of the showcase schools that the Department of Education is promoting. The idea of the showcase schools is for teachers to share best practices, but it's also a chance for parents to see how schools solve tricky problems such as integrating special needs kids in regular classrooms, fostering kids' independence or making the best use of technology.

Last week the DOE spotlight was on PS 32, which in 2004 became the first school in Brooklyn to open an inclusive program for students with autism. Instead of segregating children in separate classrooms—or even in a separate school—PS 32 started an ASD NEST program, "nesting" autistic children within larger classrooms.

Insideschools featured the school's noteworthy special education program in a video: "PS 32's NEST program." And this month PS 32 opened its doors to teachers from around the city, as one of 23 showcase schools, a program started by City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in 2014.

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.


If your child was born in 2011, it's time to be thinking about kindergarten for 2016. You may apply online, on the phone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center between Dec. 7-Jan. 15. 

If you're wondering where to start, Insideschools can help. We're offering a workshop for parents of rising kindergartners.

Join Clara Hemphill and the staff of Insideschools as we help you navigate the kindergarten admissions process.

We'll tackle these questions and more:

  • What should I look for in a school?
  • What's the difference between progressive vs. traditional?
  • How do I know if the school is right for my child?
  • What if my local school doesn't offer tours and open houses?
  • What about gifted programs, charters and other options?
  • My child has special needs. What do I need to know?

We'll offer a short presentation and then open it up for a Q&A session to answer all your questions.

Register here! The workshop will be held at The New School in Manhattan.

Se habla español. Spanish translation will be available.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015 18:15

Tips for how to rank your high school application

High school applications are due on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Have you made your list yet?

If you are still undecided where to apply, or how to rank your 12 choices, we've got last minute tips for you. 

Read our school profiles for every high school in the city, including the InsideStats section that gives you answers to such questions as: Are graduates successful in college? Does the school have metal detectors? Click the Comments link to see what current and former students have to say about the school.

If you're looking for a school with a specific theme, or one that's on a certain subway line, check out our high school search on your desktop or mobile device. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.

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