Applications for pre-kindergarten for all children born in 2012 are due next Wednesday, March 9 (The Department of Education extended the deadline to apply from March 4.) For those still looking, we can recommend some pre-k programs. [Brooklyn picks are in a separate post.] While some of the most popular programs have many more applicants than seats, these had some space last year and may not be oversubscribed this year. It doesn't hurt to apply, because even if you're not matched in this first application round, your name will be put on a waitlist. Spaces frequently open up, even into the fall.
We've done our best to identify programs we can recommend based on the data available and our school visits. Parents should be sure to visit too: It's a bad sign if a program is unwilling to let you see the classrooms. Watch our video on "What to look for in a pre-kindergarten" and read our tips.
In District 7, which has no zoned schools, we can recommend Concourse Village Elementary School which has made enormous progress in recent years. On our visit in February, pre-kindergartners in the two classrooms were busy at play, making pretend snow after a recent snowfall. Safe, well-rounded PS 157 has steady leadership and just added a third pre-kindergarten.
Soundview and Throgs Neck
Seats are tight in District 8. Take a look at PS 48, which has a separate learning annex for pre-kindergarten across the street from the main building. Kids play with blocks, enjoy water tables and re-enact stories like "The Three Bears." PS 36 now has three full-day pre-kindergartens. Children examine hermit crabs, trace letters in shaving cream and try out SMART boards and iPads. PS 93 is a small school. On school surveys, all teachers report it is safe and orderly. PS 69, with a flourishing vegetable garden and a principal trained at Bank Street, offers three pre-k classrooms and had room for students throughout the district last year.
Grand Concourse, Morrisania and Crotona Park
District 9 is on the western edge of the South Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the South Bronx. Best bet: PS 236 is a safe, small school with happy parents, solid attendance and strong leadership, according to school surveys.
Riverdale, Wave Hill and Central Bronx
There are several good options in District 10 that give priority to low-income families. Saint Simon Stock Elementary School has two male teachers (unusual in early childhood education) and one female, who are recommended by pre-k expert Kym Vanderbilt, of Lehman College and the NY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute. She also likes the "fabulous" pre-k at Salvation Army Tremont. PS 3, a small school in Belmont, took students from throughout District 10 last year. PS 23, with 54 seats, introduces small children to literacy early and offers a welcoming environment to kids with special needs. There's a district lottery for seats in the two pre-k classrooms at popular Bronx New School.
District 11 covers the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn. PS 160 Walt Disney is wheelchair-accessible and a good choice with three classrooms and solid leadership, according to teacher surveys. Also consider PS 89, where the principal is praised as improving attendance and school tone. It has three pre-k classrooms and offered slots to students from throughout the district last year.
In District 12, we like Samara Community School. On our last visit kids were deeply engaged in pigeons—what they eat, how they live—after falling in love with a storybook about pigeons. Little Scholars, a Reggio-based program, is "truly wonderful," said Vanderbilt. In the Reggio approach, kids explore topics of interest through art, drama, music, puppetry and more. Preference goes to low-income families.
Lower East Side
Every school in District 1 has pre-k so there are lots of choices. And, since there are no zoned schools in the district, once you are accepted into the pre-kindergarten, you are automatically "in" for kindergarten too.
Looking for a progressive approach? Both the East Village Community School and The Children's Workshop School, which share a building, offer two classrooms, as does the Earth School. The Neighborhood School has only 18 seats. PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy offers a hands-on approach to math where little kids explore numbers, patterns and shapes, along with big words like "hexagon" and "pentagon." Tiny PS 15 has a music program and dance with Mark DeGarmo teaching artists. Students grow plants, hatch chicks and take frequent field trips. Bank Street Head Start is a delightful, play-based program, led by thoughtful and caring adults, giving preference to low-income families.
Upper East Side, Midtown and Downtown
District 2 has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. PS 126, a sweet, engaging school led by Jacqueline Getz, former principal of the progressive Manhattan New School, did not fill all its seats last year. PS 2 has a stellar pre-kindergarten program for little scientists. PS 33 accepted kids from across district last year as did the PS 340, Sixth Avenue Elementary School, a promising new school with lots of classroom pets, field trips and hands-on experiences for little ones. PS 124, a large school in Chinatown, now has 90 pre-k seats and had plenty of space even for out-of-borough children in 2015.
Upper West Side and Harlem
Most of the schools in District 3 have far more applicants than seats. In Harlem, we were impressed by our visit to PS 185 Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet, with its hands-on engineering program including a LEGO Lab. PS 180 and PS 191 both had space for children from throughout the district, as did PS 145 where we found inviting pre-k classrooms on our last visit. (If you're willing to travel, the pre-k center at PS 51, listed above, has well equipped classrooms and room to spare, possibly a result of the out-of-the-way location on 44th Street, west of 10th Avenue.)
Our pick in District 4 is safe, joyful PS 112, led by longtime principal Eileen Reiter. Tiny, progressive River East, open districtwide, did not fill its pre-k class last year. Once admitted to pre-k there, you may stay through 5th grade.
On our recent visit to PS 125 in District 5 we found swimming, yoga, blocks and LEGOs plus a multi-racial parent community working together. A fixture in the Harlem community, kids at Addie Mae Collins 3 (which takes low-income families first), go on trips to the New York Aquarium and the American Museum of Natural History.
Washington Heights and Inwood
Some of the most sought-after schools in District 6 have far more applicants than seats. PS 173 has a new principal who is popular with parents and that school took kids from out of borough last year. Kym Vanderbilt, an early childhood expert from Lehman College says Fort George Head Start, for low-income families, is "very good." She also recommends the Children's Aid Society pre-k programs at PS 5 and PS 8.
Corona, Glendale and Elmhurst
There are few public school spots in overcrowded District 24 for students who don't live in the school zone. The DOE has opened six stand-alone pre-k centers to alleviate crowding. These are located in public schools or in buildings leased by the education department. None of them filled all their classrooms last year.
Flushing and Whitestone
District 25 has many well-regarded, neighborhood schools—but the competition for full day pre-k is fierce. Founded in 1948 by a group of United Nations families, the International Nursery School is a good choice. Educational Director Patricia Augugliaro said children "learn through experiences and by celebrating cultures." Your best bet in a regular public school is PS 201 rated "well-developed," the highest rating, on the 2013–2014 Quality Review. TheActive Learning Elementary School, is a welcoming early childhood school that had space for students from throughout the district last year in its two classrooms. PS 201 is another option, with four pre-k classrooms and a magnet program in inquiry and research.
Enrollment is tight in District 26 in northeast Queens, long the city's highest achieving district. Most of the public schools have pre-k seats that fill from within the zone only. Exceptions last year were PS/IS 178, an Insideschools pick with two pre-k classrooms, that had space for students throughout the borough; PS 205, a cheerful small school and PS 213, both of which accepted students outside their zones. Consider the Lutheran School of Flushing and Bayside which was voted "Best of the Boro" by Queens Courier in 2015. Central to the progressive approach at the Chabad Early Learning Center are the wooden unit blocks. The website shows spacious, well-lit classrooms with plants, wooden floors and furniture, and creatively engaged kids.
South Ozone Park and the Rockaways
On the farthest seashores of Far Rockaway, in District 27, we like the look of racially diverse PS 316 Queens Explorer's Elementary, and Wave Preparatory Elementary, which is safe and orderly, according to school surveys. Goldie Maple Academy is a well-run school that's trying something novel: even pre-kindergartners change classrooms throughout the day for different subjects. It's too soon to tell whether this approach will work with 4-year-olds, but the school offers 80 seats and did not fill last year. There is also a large pre-k center at PS 223.
Central Queens: Forest Hills, Jamaica, Rego Park and Kew Gardens
Overcrowding is a problem in schools across District 28. PS 160, which we visited in 2015, is improving under Principal Tiffany Hicks, who is adding more arts programs and stronger social studies. The pre-k's are in cramped but neat and tidy portables and kids have easy access to a safe playground with sparkling climbing equipment right outside the door. Parents may want to look to the four pre-k centers run by the DOE which had open seats this year.
In District 29, in the southeast corner of Queens, teachers and parents are pleased with PS 132 Ralph Bunche; 100 percent of teachers report on school surveys that it's safe and orderly. PS 181 is a small school with a positive vibe and a better attendance rate. We can recommend PS 176, an orderly neighborhood school we visited recently, that had space for out-of-zone students in 2015. Likewise, PS 251, growing to become a pre-k to 5th-grade school, has a lovely enclosed playground for the youngest children and space for out-of-zone students. Also consider two pre-k centers: on Jamaica Avenue and Springfield Boulevard. Stepping Stone Preschool, established in 1982, has expanded.
Astoria and Long Island City
Like neighboring District 24, zoned schools in District 30 are mostly crowded and many do not offer pre-kindergarten. PS 112 in Long Island City is one option; it's racially diverse, attendance is pretty good and there are five pre-k classes. Another good option is PS 85, with 72 pre-k slots. There are six pre-k centers in District 30. Here's one in Astoria. If you have a recommendation, add it to "comments" on each pre-k page.
PS 59 Harbor View School offers hands-on math and science. Teachers say the school is safe and orderly on school surveys and 100 percent would recommend the school to other parents. It opened in 2013 in the St. George neighborhood. Naples Street School, a growing school with an arts focus, is open district-wide and has two pre-k classrooms. PS 50, a well-run school with solid academics, had space from students throughout the district last year and offers two pre-k classrooms. With 84 seats, PS 53, with solid statistics and high marks from both teachers and parents on the annual school surveys, is a good bet. Likewise, PS 56, with 72 seats and a focus on the environment, had lots of open seats last year.
Did you find a great pre-k program not mentioned here? Please add your suggestions below and comment on the school pages!
Next up, some last-minute picks for Brooklyn.