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Public School Admissions Tips and Timeline

by Marissa Guijarro, Editor

The New York City school system serves 1.1 million students in the five boroughs (Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island) and employs over 80,000 teachers.

As a prospective parent/guardian of a NYC public school student, you should become familiar with the website New York City Department of Education. It offers comprehensive information on the available programs, thorough descriptions of curriculum, and suggestions for families. Reflecting the multi-lingual nature of New York, you can access information in several languages, including Spanish, Haitian-Creole, and Chinese. The most important section of the site includes starting and ending dates for filing an application to schools. By starting your search early, you will minimize any stress that sometimes accompanies this process.

Registering and Enrolling Your Child for the 2010-11 school year

Click on the tab on the left-hand side, “Choices and Enrollment” to get started. If you are registering your child for the first time, click on “Pre-Kindergarten Admissions.” This area provides information about how to find out your zone’s school, where you can register your child for NYC schools. Keep in mind that your zoned school may or may not have a pre-kindergarten program. Among elementary schools offering pre-K, there are full day and half-day options depending on the site. As of March 1, 2010, applications will be open for universal pre-K and end on April 9th. Families registering children for kindergarten may apply starting February 1 until March 22.

You should also click on “Academics” then “Early Childhood” to access more information on pre-K and kindergarten admissions. This area allows you to sign up for e-mails that will keep you up-to-date on any changes in the process.

Special Programs

Programs for Children with Disabilities

All pre-K and kindergarten children will have a basic health screening. However, you are entitled to information about special education services for your pre-school aged child if you suspect any type of disability. Start your inquiry by contacting one of the pre-K schools in your area. You will receive information regarding the special education evaluation process and your rights as a parent/guardian. If you have questions, ask! Should you decide that you want your child to be evaluated for a possible disability, you must submit your written consent to evaluation. Make sure that you understand all of the information that is sent to you. If you need assistance, contact the Office for Family Engagement. After testing is completed, you will be invited to a meeting of the Committee for PreSchool Special Education (CPSE). If your child is ultimately determined to have a disability, he/she will have an Individualized Learning Plan (IEP) which is a legal document that lists the types of instructional and other supports that your child is entitled to receive, and includes a set of goals for your child to achieve with the help of teachers and other professionals (e.g., speech therapist, counselor, etc. depending on the disability). For example, a child who is determined to to have a speech disability may be entitled to receive 1/2 hour of speech therapy twice a week in school. The IEP is a powerful document, and mandates NYC to provide an appropriate learning environment for your child. You will be invited to annual (or more frequent) meetings to discuss your child’s progress while he/she has an IEP. Children with moderate to severe disabilities are entitled to services under Universal PreKindergarten Plus.

English Language Learners

When registering your child for the first time, you will be required to complete a home language survey. Children who speak a language other than English at home will be given a English language assessment (LAB-R) to determine if they qualify for ELL services. Of the students eligible for testing, those who speak Spanish at home will also be given the LAB in Spanish to determine the level of language proficiency in Spanish. There are different types of ELL services. In Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE), students are taught primarily in the native language with a gradual increase to instruction in the target language (English). Dual Language instruction consists of students who are ELLs are in classrooms with monolingual English speakers. The students receive instruction in both languages (English and the native language). Currently, Dual Language programs are available in Spanish, Chinese and Haitian Creole. Freestanding English as Second Language instruction (ESL) consists of instruction entirely in English. For students who are ELLs, the ultimate goal help them to transition to a completely monolingual academic environment. Bilingual and ESL support is available to former ELLs. However, students in dual language programs are encourage to stay in the program in order to become fully bilingual and bicultural.

Gifted and Talented

Parents/guardians of potentially gifted and talented children should check the website one year (yes, I said one year!) before the student’s anticipated entry to pre-K or kindergarten. The deadline to request Gifted and Talented testing is usually sometime in the fall, with testing scheduled in January of the year of entry. Current non-residents may also request testing if you are anticipating a move to New York City.

Charter Schools

Charter schools belong to the New York City system but are often run by community-based organizations and other educational groups. Often, charter schools feature focused programs with a primary goal of educating children via specific educational techniques. To find out about charter schools, check what is in your child’s commuting area first, then look at the schools’ websites. I would also suggest a visit to the school (perhaps a public event such as PTA meeting) if you are seriously considering a charter school. You can find information about charter schools under the “Choices and Enrollment” tab of the website. If you would like your child to apply to a charter school, you must contact the school directly. If the number of applications exceeds the number of available spots, the charter school must have a random lottery for applicants. It may be helpful to contact schools one year in advance to inquire about anticipated spots for the following fall.

New York City offers wonderful public opportunities for your pre-K and kindergarten child. Above all, you must be informed, you must ask questions, and you must follow up on any inquiries or applications. Navigating any organization in New York City requires tenacity, and public schools are no exception. As a parent/guardian, you have the right to advocate for your child and to seek the best possible setting for his/her educational and social-emotional development. Consider your own lifestyle and preferences. Ponder these questions as you consider a school for your child. Do you prefer the ease and intimacy of a neighborhood school, or would you prefer to have your child close to your workplace? Does the school have a special focus or mission? How welcoming is the school to prospective families?

As you embark on the application procedures for New York City schools, try to make the process informative and stress-free. When searching for schools, remember to reflect on your child’s personality, stamina, special needs (if any), and your priorities and preferences. It’s just the beginning of a journey through schools that will culminate in college for most (you might want to open that 529 account now if you haven’t yet!)

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