Getting Your Child Into Kindergarden in NYC

This post was originally written by Johanna Stromqvist in 2012 and has been updated by Belinda Jackson in 2015.

Getting into kindergarten in New York City is such a convoluted process that it has it’s own season. Admissions season kicks off shortly after the school year begins in September and runs parents through a series of applications, tours, testing deadlines and interviews for around five to nine months, depending on whether you’re applying to private, public or charter schools, or hedging your bets with all three.

Whatever your strategy, the year before your preschooler’s fifth birthday will be your “Year of Getting In”. Here are some preseason pointers on the public school process.

Zones

New York City’s roughly 700 public elementary (generally K-5) schools are divided into 31 districts (six of them in Manhattan). The schools within each district are strictly zoned.

There is a disparity between the reputation and performance of schools that lie just blocks apart but with some of the most popular schools forced to wait-list kids who live in their zones, applying to an alternate public school outside your zone will be tough. Your best bet is to move well within the borders of your school of choice.

Some of the more savvy real-estate brokers make it their business to know their school zones. You can search for a school in your area on the NYC Schoolsearch map. If you don’t have an address yet and are looking for a map of boundaries, this tutorial on Mommypoppins will help.

The Choice – looking into the NYC Quality Reports

So how do you know which school zone to aim for? First, New York’s public school’s are given progress report cards called Quality Reports each year.

  • The School Quality Snapshot is designed specifically for families, and provides a concise summary of each school’s practices, environment, and performance.
  • The School Quality Guide is a more detailed report with additional information, including multiple years of data to show the school’s progress over time.

The reports are by no means exhaustive but they’ll give you questions to keep in mind as you do your own research. Schools’ websites provide links to their recent report cards.

Attend school tours. They’re generally offered in the fall and early winter but pre-registration for kindergarten begins in March so aim to start early. The tours also fill up so call or check your target schools’ websites in September to find out when they’re holding theirs. A great resource for parents, Inside Schools has a list of tips on what to look for during school tours.

For broader insider knowledge, preschools usually have a person charged with handling “exmissions”. Or consider enlisting a school search consultant like Robin Aronow’s School Search NYC and Joyce Szuflita’s NYC School Help. Clara Hemphill’s book, New York’s Best Public Elementary Schools, offers reviews of some of the popular ones. She has also published reviews on middle and high schools.

Less official but just as beneficial (although slightly overwhelming) is the advice from other parents. Any preschooler’s parent will regale you with admissions horror stories in the same way we spin spider-bite and shark attack tales. But don’t be discouraged – that neighborhood school gossip is your missing link to local knowledge.

The Gifted & Talented Program

If you’re unhappy with your zoned school the gifted & talented program, commonly referred to as the G&T program, is one way out. The G&T follows the same curriculum as the general education classes but at a possibly accelerated or enriched pace. It’s open to eligible children who might live outside the school’s zone. Many New Yorkers rely on this as a back-op option so it’s competitive. Whether their parents were actively pursuing a G&T class or not, last January and February over 14,000 children took the test.

There are five city-wide G&T programs, which offer spots to children who score in the 97th percentile in the aptitude tests (realistically the cut-off has crept up to 99). There are also around 33 district-wide G&T programs, which are open to kids who achieve a score in the 90th percentile and who live anywhere within the school’s district (but not necessarily in its catchment zone).

The deadline to submit Request for Testing forms is around the end of October. However you feel about testing preschoolers, it’s worth at least familiarizing yourself with the deadlines or signing up for G&T Admissions deadlines to come via email alerts.

Independent, magnet and charter schools have their own admissions procedures and deadlines. We’ll bring you advice on tackling these in future posts.

Image by Chelsey Tuley

Do you have any additional tips for AWNY mums on how to get their kids into kindergarten in NYC?

Please add them in the comments below.