NYC Public Elementary School Choices

New York City offers a vast range of elementary school choices, which ultimately may be a good thing, but many Australian parents find this overwhelming.  In this post, we look at the choices available for elementary schools within the NYC public school system.

In a previous post, we covered the Kindergarten admissions process, which kicks off shortly after the school year begins in September.

The NYC Department of Education site provides a good summary of public school choices available, including options for new students who are enrolling at any point during the is school year. 

The Parents League of New York is an excellent resource to investigate Independent schools, outside of the public school system, from nursery through to high schools and boarding schools.

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.

The most popular public schools (like PS 234 in Tribeca, PS 6 on the Upper East Side and PS 41 in the West Village) have very strict zoning laws and large and involved parent groups.  There are lots of schools outside these zones that are also very good – some of which recently opened to deal with the overflow from the two downtown schools in particular.  Those also come with a new and vibrant parent community working to make their local school great.

There can be a disparity between the reputation and performance of schools that lie just blocks apart.  A lot of families rent or purchase their apartment to be within the borders of their school of choice, and that is smart.  Savvy real-estate brokers make it their business to know their school zones and you can search for a school in your area on the NYC Schoolsearch map.  If you’re just beginning to search for a family apartment, look for a map of boundaries, click through to this Mommypoppins tutorial for further information. 


Credit: Afonso Lima/

NYC Quality Reports
So how do you know which school zone to aim for?

New York’s public schools 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 Report 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 most recent report cards.

Attend school tours.  They’re generally offered in the fall and early winter.  The tours fill up, so call or check your target schools’ websites in September to find out when their tours are scheduled.  Notice who is touring with you, these may be your new family friends.  Observe the children in the school.  Do they look happy?  How is the teacher’s demeanor?  How is the classroom set up?  Is there a spacious gym?  Any outdoor area for the children?  Where do they play? 

One of the best resources for parents is Inside Schools, which goes into great detail on each school. They have photos, info and all the stats, ranging from how the kids do in tests to how much the parents and teachers recommend the head of the school.  Two years ago, Ella Colley of Inside Schools wrote us a post covering An Inside Guide to NYC School Applications, which also offers great tips on school choices.

Consider enlisting a school search consultant like Robin Aronow’s School Search NYC or 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 is the advice from other parents. One AWNY member shares that, prior to her enrolling her child in Kindergarten, she struck up conversations with school parents in the nearby playground, to gather “kindergarten intel”.  It’s just an intelligent way to navigate a new situation.  Knowledge is power.

It’s always wise to check in with locals who know the neighborhoods.  New members to AWNY can join the Meet and Greet program in order to connect with other Australian women who have already been through the experience.  This is invaluable.  How can you know what you’re getting into without local knowledge?

Also, you should understand your own child’s learning style, if they are gifted, or challenged, will the school have resources to match what your child needs?  If your child needs to move, does the school have a good sports program?  What after school programs are there and what are the costs?  Is there after school care of some kind available at the school?

Credit: Rob Gonyea/

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 an alternative.  In a previous post, we covered the G&T admissions process.

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 backup option, so it’s competitive. Whether their parents were actively pursuing a G&T class or not, last year over 16,000 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), with no admissions priority based on the student’s district or zone.  There are also around 33 district-wide G&T programs, which are open to kids who achieve a score in the 90th percentile and give admissions priority to students who live in the school district (but not necessarily in its zone).

The deadline to submit Request for Testing forms is around mid November.  However you feel about testing preschoolers, it’s worth at least familiarizing yourself with the deadlines or signing up for email alerts.

Charter Schools
Charter schools are independent public schools founded by not-for-profit Boards of Trustees.  Any student eligible for admission to a New York City public school is eligible for admission to a public charter school.  The NYC DOE site provides details on Charter School admissions procedures.

This post was originally written by Johanna Stromqvist in 2012, updated by Angela Tohl.

Author: Angela Tohl

Born in Adelaide but calls Brisbane her home, Angela came to New York City in 2007 in search of an adventure. Her free time is spent eating poppy seed bagels, learning guitar and chasing her 2 little kids around NYC.

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