NYC Public Elementary School Zones & Choices

New York City offers a vast range of elementary school choices. This is great news for kids but can be overwhelming for parents, especially Australian parents new to NYC. In this guide we step you through NYC elementary school choices, including a closer look at school zones, and the Gifted & Talented program.

This guide focusses specifically on the NYC public school system, with resources and tips for choosing an elementary school.

If you’re considering private school, the Parents League of New York is an excellent resource covering nursery through to high school as well as boarding schools.

New York elementary school zones choices

Understanding School Zones
New York City’s roughly 700 public elementary schools (generally K-5) are divided into 31 districts (six of them in Manhattan).

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 opened to deal with the overflow from the two downtown schools. 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, which is smart.  Savvy real-estate brokers make it their business to know their school zones, which are not currently available on the DOE site however you can find them on this handy map.

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Gifted & Talented Program (G&T)
The G&T program is an alternative to your zoned school, if your child seems cognitively advanced for their grade. G&T follows the same curriculum as the general education classes but at an enriched pace.

To apply, students must sit a test and meet the qualifying score. Many New Yorkers rely on this as a backup option so it’s competitive and common for kids to receive private test prep coaching. Over 16,000 kids entering Kindergarten sat the test last year.

There are 5 citywide G&T programs, for children who score 97 or above (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 80 district-wide G&T programs, for kids who score 90 or above, with admissions priority to students who live in the school district.

To sit the G&T test, you’ll need to sign up your child in the fall (typically by November). The test generally takes place in January the following year. You can subscribe to email updates to learn when and how to sign up for the test.

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 DOE provides details on Charter School enrollment.

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School Quality Reports
The DOE provides comprehensive information and data for each school, such as:

  • Tests Results: results for various tests, including ELA and Math standardized tests
  • School Survey: Feedback from the school community on what they think about the learning environment
  • School Quality: Reports characterizing student achievement and the school environment, including:

The reports are by no means exhaustive but they’ll give you different perspectives on each school to complement your own research.

School Tours
School tours are generally offered in the fall and early winter and you can find out exact dates by checking the DOE calendar or contacting the school directly. Notice who is touring with you as 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?

Inside Schools Resources
One of the most helpful resources for parents is Inside Schools, with photos, info and stats ranging from how the kids do in tests to how much the parents and teachers recommend the head of the school. 

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School Search Consultants
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 schools. She has also published reviews on middle and high schools.

Advice from Other Parents
Less official but just as beneficial is the advice from other parents. One AWNY member struck up conversations with school parents in the nearby playground to gather “kindergarten intel”. You can always check with the Australian Mums & Dads in NYC Facebook group for first hand knowledge or join the AWNY Meet and Greet program in order to connect with other Australian women who have already been through the experience.

Can you recommend any additional resources for choosing an elementary school in NYC?

Let us know in the comments below.


This post was originally written by Johanna Stromqvist in 2012, and was updated in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Author: Australian Women in New York

Australian Women in New York (AWNY) sources stories and guides that will help make you win the Big Apple. We also love to profile fabulous Aussie and Kiwi women.

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