If you missed our forum on "How to apply to public elementary school," you can watch it below. (Please bear with us for the 30 second ad before the video starts).

If you'd like to see more events like this, please email our co-sponsor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

If you prefer words to video, here's a summary of my talk from the event:

Starting kindergarten is an exciting time for you and your child. But it can be a scary time as well. We're here to try to help you relax. There are a lot of lovely kindergartens out there and we'll help you find one for your child. We'll tell you about different kinds of schools available to you. But first, let's look at a video that will give you an idea of what to look for in a school:

Now I'm going to tell you about the different kinds of schools.

You can apply to as many schools as you like, your zoned neighborhood school, or another neighborhood school that might have space, or a special program such as a dual language program or a charter school.

One thing I want to make clear: Your child is entitled to a seat in kindergarten the year he turns 5. You are not required to send him until he is 6, but he is entitled to a spot in kindergarten if you want it. If you wait too long—if you just show up in August—your neighborhood school may not have any room and your child will be sent to another school. But they have to find a place for your child someplace.

Neighborhood schools :

Most kids in the city go to their zoned neighborhood schools. The advantages: it's close to home. It can build a sense of community. Kids get tired travelling. If you are considering a good school close to home or a great school miles away, I'd choose the good school close to home. Tours are going on now. Not all schools offer them. If you can't go on a tour, go to a PTA meeting or talk to parents at drop off in the morning.

No school is perfect. Think about "What can you fix, and what's impossible to fix?" My kids' school only had phys ed once a week, but we signed them up for West Side Soccer League on the weekends. Other things are harder to fix: if the principal is really unfriendly to parents, for example.

Most neighborhood schools have room for all their zoned kids. There are pockets of overcrowding: PS 41, PS 234 in Manhattan, District 24 (Elmhurst, Maspeth) in Queens and possibly District 20 (Sunset Park and Bay Ridge).

It used to be that parents just registered their children at their neighborhood school, but now there is a 2-step process. You "apply" between now and March 2. Don't bring your child, just your documents. Then you hear where you child has been "accepted" and you "register" –bring your child—sometime after March 26.

Now is the time to consider other options as well.

Unzoned schools :

Some schools are open to children from across a whole district or even across the city. These schools don't require an exam. Some of these were set up as alternatives to traditional neighborhood schools. Some are progressive schools, where children learn by doing, with lots of blocks, no text books, and fun-to-read picture books. Your child may call teachers by first name. Here are some unzoned schools: Ella Baker, Central Park East and the Neighborhood School in Manhattan, Bronx New School, Brooklyn New School.

The deadline to apply to these schools is March 2.

Dual language programs :

Dual language immersion programs have classes in which half the students are native speakers of English, and half speak another language (Spanish, Chinese or French, for example). Classes are taught in each language on alternative days or weeks, and the children are expected to become fluent in both. These programs shouldn't be confused with bilingual or English as a Second Language classes, designed to teach English to non-English speakers. Some dual language programs are PS 75, PS 87, PS 20, and PS 84 in Manhattan and PS 84 in Brooklyn.

The deadline to apply to these schools is March 2.

Magnet programs :

Magnet programs are designed to foster racial integration. They receive federal or state funding for special programs (such as art, drama or law) to make the school attractive to children of different races who might not otherwise attend, and they admit children from outside their immediate neighborhood. PS 145 on the Upper West Side and PS 201 in Queens are two magnet schools.

The deadline to apply to these schools is April 20. Lainie Leber from will tell us more about magnet programs on the Upper West Side and Queens

Charter schools :

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not run by the Department of Education. Admission is by lottery. Each school has its own deadline, but all are by April 1.

They are mostly in low-income neighborhoods where parents were fed up with their other options. Now there are a few in middle class neighborhoods as well. Honestly, charter schools are a mixed bag. Some are great, some are a mess. It used to be they had to find their own space, now Mayor Bloomberg gives them space in ordinary public schools. There's a lot of resentment over shared space.

There are two kinds of charter schools, what we call "mom and pops," versus the networks. The "mom and pops" are individual schools, mostly organized by community groups. For example, the Hellenic Charter School in Park Slope teaches Greek. The networks are a group of charters all managed by the same organization and all with the same philosophy. For example, Harlem Success Academy has a number of schools in the Bronx and Manhattan and they are opening some in Brooklyn as well.

Charter schools can have very different approaches to education. Some are very traditional, like the Achievement First schools, with lots of rules, uniforms, teachers who are given very precise instruction about how and what to teach. Others are more progressive, like Renaissance Charter School in Queens or Community Roots in Brooklyn.

There are 30 new charter schools opening next fall, if they are approved and can find space.

Later, we'll be hearing from Sonya Hooks from the City's charter school office

Gifted programs :

The deadline for gifted programs for fall 2012 has already passed. I'm going to let Robin Aronow talk to you more about gifted programs. But let me give you my thoughts. In most cases, I don't think gifted programs are necessary for very young children. A lot of what you need to learn in elementary school is social rather than cognitive. What you want is a teacher who can challenge different abilities in one class: If you see one child is reading an easy book like "Frog and Toad", while another is reading a chapter book like "Charlotte's Web", that's a good sign. By middle school (or even the upper elementary grades), it is very hard to teach different levels in same class: gifted programs make sense here. Also, gifted programs make sense if your neighborhood school is really not very good.

Special education :

We are lucky to have Randi Levine from Advocates for Children here to answer your questions about special education. But let me give you some general outlines and tips. I advise everyone to look at special education services in a school, whether or not you think your child needs them. That's because it will give you a clue about how the school will treat your child if he ever hits a bump—if he has trouble learning to read, or if there's a family crisis and he needs counseling. You want a school that includes special needs children in the regular activities of the school, not one that segregates them in the basement.

About 17,000 kindergartners will be getting special education services this fall, everything from speech therapy, to counseling, to a placement in an extra-small class with a specially trained teacher. If your child is one of them, you are entitled to apply to schools just like anyone else, and you'll find out what school he is assigned to just like everyone else.

In the past, some schools offered particular services--like help for deaf kids-- and some did not, and if your child needed the services he had to go to another school. Now, the Department of Education wants to make sure that every school can serve every child. This is one of those ideas that is good in theory but is causing lots of problems in practice.

If your child needs a small class (self-contained) or a class with two teachers (CTT or ICT), you used to apply through a central office and now you are applying at your neighborhood school. Some of the schools are prepared for this, some aren't. Basically, you are expected to apply for school before you know what your child needs and before you know what the school offers.

The Department of Education is holding workshops at the end of the month. If your child has special needs, it's a good idea to go.