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.
Getting your 4-year-old enrolled in pre-kindergarten is more complicated than signing up at your local school! All children who turn 4 in 2015 are eligible for free pre-kindergarten, either in a public school or at a site run by a community organization. You must apply by April 24 and do your homework first. The de Blasio administration gets an A for effort in its rapid expansion of pre-kindergarten, with more than 30,000 new seats last fall and another 20,000 planned for this coming fall. But what is the quality of these new programs?
Even though the city is rapidly expanding free, all-day pre-k programs, demand still outstrips supply in many neighborhoods. Insideschools hosted a panel of experts this spring, including Josh Wallack, chief strategy officer for the Department of Education, Takiema Bunche Smith, director of the Leadership Institute at SCO/FirstStepNYC and Lydie Raschka, Insideschools school reviewer and Montessori teacher. They, along with other experts from Insideschools, talked about how to find a good program for your child and gave tips on how to navigate the application process.
There were few surprises in today's release of the numbers of children who qualified for the city's elementary gifted and talented programs. Hundreds of kids qualified from Manhattan's districts 2 and 3, compared to only a dozen from District 7 in the South Bronx, according to statistics released Monday afternoon by the Department of Education.
In total, 25 percent of the 36,413 test-takers entering kindergarten through 3rd grade were eligible for a district or citywide gifted program, just slightly below the 26 percent who were eligible last year.
The number of incoming kindergartners who scored in the 99th percentile—the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T schools—fell from 985 in 2014 to 689 in 2015. Children who score at or above the 90th percentile are eligible for a district G&T program; those who score between the 97 and 99th percentile are eligible for a citywide gifted school. But since there are only about 300 seats in the citywide programs, students who don't score in the top percentile have little chance of getting in.
The Department of Education released its list of 20 high schools that received the most applications this year, and Townsend Harris High School in Queens, with 5,540 applicants, was at the top. It was one of five high school programs that received more than 5,000 applications from 8th-graders in 2015.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ELRO), a small school that limits enrollment to Manhattan's District 2 students, was second most popular with 5,376 applicants. ELRO continues to get thousands of applications from students throughout the city even though those coming from outside of the district have little chance of getting accepted.
Beacon High School, which moves to a new building in Hell's Kitchen in September, was number three, garnering 5,255 applications for 300 seats. Beacon, like some other popular and very selective schools, still has a few openings for students with special needs. Schools that screen applicants for test scores and grades have been charged with attracting and enrolling more students who require special education services for at least 20 percent of the school day. Many came up short in the first round of high school admissions.
High school acceptance letters went out last week and the good news is that 92 percent of 8th graders who applied got one of their choices. Of those, 76 percent got one of their top three picks. The bad news? Once again, thousands of kids were disappointed: eight percent of the more than 75,000 applicants didn't get accepted anywhere. That is still better than last year, when 10 percent of applicants received no match.
If you were one of the 5,800 8th graders who wasn't matched to a high school (or if you're unhappy with your match) it's time to look at the list of the schools that still have space (pdf). There is a wide range of large and small schools with available seats, including several good arts programs, but for the first time in more than a decade there are no new schools opening.
Most of the top performing selective schools have a handful of seats only for students with special needs. This year those seats are reserved for students who receive "special education services for more than 20 percent of the instructional school day," according to the Department of Education. If you don't know whether you qualify, ask your guidance counselor to check in the online student enrollment system (SEMS).
School representatives will be at the second-round high school fair from 11 am to 2 pm on March 14 and 15 at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 66th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. You can also meet with guidance counselors at the fair to help consider your options.
Anxious 8th and 9th-graders are still waiting to learn where they will attend high school next fall. [Schools can pick up letters on Thursday, March 5 and will be distributed Thursday or Friday.] The 2nd round high school fair will be held in Manhattan the weekend of March 14-15.
The Round 2 fair is for students who aren't accepted by any schools they listed on their applications submitted last December, those who want to apply to a school other than the one they were matched to and students who did not apply in the first round. At the fair, families can meet representatives from schools that still have seats available and they can talk to DOE admissions representives and guidance counselors about their options.
Tomorrow, Feb. 18, is the last day for parents of children born in 2010 to apply to kindergarten for September 2015.
You may apply online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center (formerly known as an enrollment office). You'll find out in April where your child has been assigned.
Unlike pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—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. The application allows parents to apply to up to 12 schools and submit the form online. Welcome news for parents who don't speak English: This year applications are available in nine languages and translators are on-hand for those who apply in person, or by calling 718-935-2009 between 8 am and 6 pm.
This year's elementary school directories are also better organized than previous years', neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. (Charter schools are listed in the back. Charters require a separate application and have a different due date: April 1, 2015).
Here are answers to some common questions.
What should I do before I apply?
If you haven't already done so, 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?
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 just 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 own 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 school listings 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 much different this year.
A handful of new schools, both zoned and unzoned, are opening in the Bronx, Queens. Don't overlook those. If you like the leadership, you may want to become part of the school's first class. A new school frequently has openings beyond the school zone.
How do I apply to a dual language program?
More than 100 schools offer dual language programs, where students receive instruction in both English and another language. This year the city changed its kindergarten application process and you no longer apply directly to a dual language program using a separate code on the application. Instead, you apply only to the general ed program of that school, indicating your child's native language and your preference for dual language when prompted on the application. When accepted by the school, your child will be called in for an interview to determine her language proficiency. In April schools will conduct language assessments before making final placement decisions. The goal for dual language is for half of the students to be native speakers of another language, so while zoned students receive preference in admission, out of zone students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting. The catch is, you won't find out until late in the process whether you've got a dual language seat. Make sure you stay in contact with the school to let them know of your continuing interest. See our post "What's new with dual language" for more information.
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.
Regardless of whether you are applying to a G&T program for your child, you must still apply to kindergarten between Jan. 7 and Feb. 18. 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 be accepted online, over the phone, and in person for several weeks after Feb. 18, but families who apply late will receive an 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.
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.
Now is the time for parents of children born in 2011 to start looking for pre-kindergarten programs for next fall. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promises there will be seats for every four-year-old--although the city won't announce where the new seats will be until the end of the month.
Families may apply between March 16 and April 24. They'll find out in June where their child is matched. Parents may rank up to 12 choices on the application and submit it online at www.nyc.gov/prek, on the telephone by calling 311, or in person at a Department of Education's Family Welcome Centers.
About 60 percent of the pre-kindergarten programs are housed in community organizations and child care centers; the rest are housed in public schools. In a departure from previous years, families will use one form to apply to both public school programs and those offered at community organizations, called "community-based early education centers" (CBEECs) They will be matched to one program. Acceptance letters will go out on May 29 and registration is from June 1-19.
The city will publish the new pre-kindergarten directories at the end of February. In the meantime, you can get started with your search by checking out last year's directory. Insideschools also has an interactive map showing the number of seats available in each public school program in 2014-2015 and the number of applicants that school received in 2013.
Some areas of the city—such as the Upper West and Upper East sides of Manhattan, and Park Slope in Brooklyn—have historically had a shortage of seats and it's unclear how that will change now. School officials have said they are looking at "creative solutions" that may include leasing space in parochial schools, libraries, child care centers and housing projects. In past years, parents sometimes had to travel a great distance for an available seat.
Priority in admissions to school-based programs will be the same as last year, according to the Department of Education. For zoned schools, students living in the zone and those with siblings already enrolled in the school get first priority, followed by families living in the district. For unzoned schools, siblings of enrolled students in the district get first dibs. Those priorities are spelled out on pages 5 and 6 of last year's directory. For the early childhood centers, first priority goes to current students, then to siblings of current students, followed by low-income families and to English language learners, the DOE said.
As in past years, if you are not placed in a program, or in your preferred program, you can ask to be placed on a waitlist. Schools and early education centers will handle their own waitlists.
One of the main differences between public school pre-k and what's offered at early education centers is the availability of childcare after school hours. Traditionally, some public school programs are half-day (2.5 hours) and some are full-day (6 hours). All of the early education centers offer full day programs and they provide childcare after the school day ends; fee-based for families who don't meet income guidelines. For many working parents, the option of 10 hours of combined school and childcare is preferable to the shorter day at a public school. Most schools do not offer after school programs for 4-year-olds.
But many parents may find themselves without a viable choice anyway, especially in neighborhoods with over-crowded public schools, says Brooklyn blogger and school advisor Joyce Szuflita.
"The majority of fours [four-year-olds] seats in CBECCs will be taken by students already attending at the school and moving up to fours. This is wonderful for the families currently attending those schools," she writes on her NYCschoolhelp blog "It could also mean that a child zoned for a popular school with few public seats who is not currently attending a private program with UPK funding is still likely to be left out in the cold. And yet, families will be filling out the application with the anticipation that there are seats available in all these programs."
Szuflita also expressed concern "about the school's and the DoE's ability to maintain clear and accurate information about availability and wait-lists within this murky hybrid system."
To explain the new process to parents, the DOE is holding information sessions in all five boroughs. More details as we get them.
Are you interested in your child learning a new language or solidifying his French or Spanish, or maybe Japanese? The city just added 40 new or expanded programs to its roster of more than 100 dual language programs and changed how incoming kindergartners apply. Here's what you need to know.
Because the majority of the city's dual language programs begin in kindergarten, if you've got a child born in 2010, you need to apply now. Applications for September 2015 are due on Feb. 13 and are submitted online, in person at a Department of Education office or over the phone.
It's important to understand that while dual language programs help English speakers become literate in a second language, they were designed as one of several options for children who are English language learners (ELLs). In dual language classrooms, half of the instruction is in English and the other half is in the target language such as Spanish, French, Chinese, Haitian Creole and a handful of other languages.
If you have a child born in 2010, now is the time to be thinking about kindergarten: Applications are due between Jan. 7 and Feb. 13. You may apply online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center (formerly known as an enrollment office). You'll find out in April where your child has been assigned.
Unlike pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—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. The Kindergarten Connect application, in its second year, allows parents to apply to up to 12 schools and submit the form online. Welcome news for parents who don't speak English: This year applications are available in nine languages and translators are on-hand for those who apply in person, or by calling 718-935-2009 between 8 am and 6 pm.
This year's elementary school directories are also better organized than previous years', neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. (Charter schools are listed in the back. They require a separate application and have a different due date: April 1, 2015).
Here are answers to some common questions.
High school applications are due on Tuesday, Dec. 2. 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.
We have been visiting high schools all fall, updating our reviews and adding new slideshows. Read our school profiles and check the comments section too. Wondering what other students and parents, and even teachers, think of the school? Our InsideStats section tells you that.
If you're looking for a school with a specific theme, or one that's close to home, check out our new 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.
Here are our suggestions of what to consider as you apply.