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.
What should I do before I apply?
There's no advantage to applying early—all applications received between Jan. 7 and Feb. 13 are considered equally. Visit the school! You want to see the school to see if it's a good fit. Before visiting, 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?
Most students in New York City attend kindergarten at their zoned schools but there are other options as well, including non-zoned and charter schools. (There are three districts which 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.
How do I apply to a dual language program?
More than 80 schools offer dual language programs, where students receive instruction in both English and another language. If your child is a native speaker of the target language—such as Spanish, French or Chinese, for example—there's a place to indicate that on the application. Dual language programs are no longer listed separately from the school's general program on the application. If you would like your child to enroll in a dual language program, list the school on the application and you'll be prompted with questions about your interest and your child's native language. 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, unzoned students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting.
What about gifted and talented programs?
The admissions timelinefor 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 through Kindergarten Connect between Jan. 7 and Feb. 13. If your child is later accepted to a G&T program and you decide to attend, you can inform the other school.
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. 13, 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.
Got 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, consider attending one of the kindergarten information sessions which will be held in every borough in January, from Jan. 8 to 13. They all begin at 6 pm. See the schedule here. You can also call the DOE's enrollment office at 718-935-2009 and see the DOE'skindergarten page for more information.
(Updated Jan. 10, 2015 with new information about how to apply to dual language programs)