(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 intoP.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."
Thousands of families across the city found themselves on kindergarten waitlists last week after the city sent out its first offer letters under the new Kindergarten Connect system, which allowed families to apply to multiple schools online using a single application.
Just 1,200 students were waitlisted for their zoned school under the new system, down from about 2,300 zoned students last year, according to the Department of Education. Thousands more children, like Daniela, are on waitlists for schools they are not zoned for but are preferred by their families. Many children are on multiple waitlists, for every school they ranked higher than the school at which they were offered a seat.
School officials anticipate many waitlisted families will receive offers over the next several months, as other students give up their spots for private schools, charter schools and gifted-and-talented programs, or move out of the city.
Here are some tips if you've been waitlisted:
- Pre-register at the school where your child won a seat — it won't affect your standing on waitlists elsewhere.
Now that families have received offers to a kindergarten program, they will have to make appointments to pre-register at that school in person by May 23. Parents must bring their child, his or her birth certificate or passport, immunization records and two proofs of residence.
Pre-registering at one school does not affect a child's chances of receiving an offer from another school's waitlist, according to information distributed by the DOE. And if you don't pre-register by the May 23 deadline, you automatically forfeit the only kindergarten seat you've been offered so far. [Likewise, accepting a spot and registering at a charter school will not affect your chances at a DOE school.]
- Each school will handle its own waitlist [including unzoned schools, such as Brooklyn New School, which received 900 applications for its four kindergarten classes, orMidtown West. The exceptions are schools in the three districts -- 1, 7 and 23 -- which have no zoned schools. Waitlists there are handled by their borough enrollment offices, not by the school.]
The first step of the kindergarten admissions process was centralized by the DOE this year, but control will return to individual schools, officials said.
That means schools will now manage their own waitlists and each will make offers independently, so it is possible that waitlisted families will receive offers to multiple schools and then be able to choose among them. [With the exception of some schools that have a waitlist for zoned students, schools have not yet set up their waitlists and won't be able to tell you what number you are on the list. Parent coodinators that Insideschools spoke with said they will do separate lotteries, based on priority level, each time there is an opening, to determine who gets the spot].
[If you live in districts 1, 7 or 23 which have no zoned schools, the borough enrollment offices manages the waiitlist, said PS 20 Parent Coorindator Tracey Arrington. As spaces become available, that office will place students according to the admissions' priorities set out in the elementary school directories, she said. She suggested that parents call the enrollment office at 212-356-3700 or, better yet, go in person to ensure they are on the list. In Manhattan, it's at 333 Seventh Avenue, 12th floor; in the Bronx at 1 Fordham Plaza, 7th floor and in Brooklyn, 1665 St. Mark's Avenue.]
- How you ranked a school doesn't affect your order on the waitlist
Waitlisted students will be offered available spots based on a series of priorities, with siblings of current students receiving top priority, followed by those who live in the school's zone, those who are currently in the school's pre-K program and those who live in the school's district, according to DOE documents.
How you ranked a school on your original application will not determine where you are on that school's waitlist, DOE officials said.
- If you're on a waitlist for your zoned school, reach out.
Families that are on a waitlist for their zoned school, should reach out to the school immediately, experts said.
"I would contact the school to let them know that even though you will be registering at the school you were placed in, that you would prefer your zoned school," said Joyce Szuflita, who advises Brooklyn parents through NYC School Help.
"They will have you on the waitlist already, but it is probably not a bad idea to let them know that you are out there, so they can keep you posted on how the waitlist for in-zone families is proceeding."
- If you're on a waitlist for a school where you are not zoned, be patient.
Families that are on a waitlist for a school where they are not zoned should be prepared to wait a bit, experts said.
"I would hang tight," Szuflita suggested, since non-zoned families won't have top priority on waitlists.
The lists probably won't have "significant movement" until after registration is done on May 23 and gifted-and-talented registration is finished in early June, Szuflita said.
- You can remain on a waitlist until October.
If you don't hear back from the schools where you're waitlisted immediately, don't fret. Schools will keep offering spaces to waitlisted families as they become available, all the way up to the start of school and even into October, according to the DOE.
Also, families that aren't able to get into their zoned school for this fall will have top priority to return to that school for first grade, DOE officials said.
[upated 4/30/2014 with information about waitlists in districts without zoned schools.]