Downtown Express photo by Vadim Shepel
Children ring the bell at P.S. 150. The small school used to automatically accept its pre-K students who applied to continue, but this year it is following city policy not to give pre-K students an advantage.
City takes tougher line on P.S. 150 admissions
By Julie Shapiro
When Julia Kuan’s daughter Olivia won a seat in P.S. 150’s pre-K last year, Kuan thought Olivia would stay in the Tribeca elementary school through fifth grade.
But this year, for the first time, P.S. 150 did not automatically accept all pre-K students into the kindergarten. Many pre-K kids who wanted a spot got in anyway, but Olivia and another girl in her class are stuck on a waitlist.
“It was really disappointing,” Kuan said. “It seemed like such a slap in the face.”
Kuan had gotten involved with the P.T.A. and donated money to the school, investing in what she thought would be her daughter’s community for the next six years. Olivia was expecting to stay at the school, too, remaining with her friends in her class and the older kids she’s gotten to know. She recently asked her mother about next fall.
“I tried to change the topic,” Kuan said, “and tell her they’re not all coming back, since some are going to [P.S.] 234, but she’s way too smart. She said, ‘Mommy, instead of telling me who’s not going to be coming back, can you tell me who is coming back?’”
When Kuan named some of her friends, Olivia replied, “‘I want to be in that class next year,’” Kuan said. “Oh my God, it was heartbreaking.”
Andy Jacob, spokesperson for the Dept. of Education, said that the city’s policy on kindergarten has not changed: Children who attend pre-K at a school should not have a better chance of getting into that school’s kindergarten. In the past, some schools, including P.S. 150, did not follow that policy, automatically admitting all the pre-K kids into kindergarten. This year, the D.O.E. told schools they had to comply.
Jacob said it would be unfair for pre-K students to have an advantage, since many parents send their children to private pre-K or to a school outside of their zone.
But Wendy Chapman, a parent leader at P.S. 150 whose son Dean is in Olivia’s class, said the pre-K lottery is open to anyone, so it makes sense as an entry point to the school. She questioned the usefulness of putting parents through a second lottery just one year later, which makes the small, close-knit school feel transient. Dean automatically received a seat in the kindergarten because he has older siblings in the school.
“New parents should be the new blood at a school,” Chapman said. “It really discourages parents from getting involved in the school until kindergarten.”
P.S. 150’s P.T.A. started a petition to change the D.O.E.’s policy or at least put the two waitlisted pre-K students at the top of the list. The P.T.A. also wrote a letter, which Chapman slipped into Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s hands after he spoke at New York Law School last week. Klein has not responded.
Jacob said the configuration of the waitlist is up to the school. He did not know how many kids are on the waitlist.
P.S. 150 principal Maggie Siena did not return calls for comment.
The school warned pre-K parents a year ago that they would not be guaranteed a seat, but Kuan said she expected to at least get priority.
Kuan and other pre-K parents said they are particularly frustrated because there is plenty of room for all the pre-K kids to be offered a seat in the kindergarten, as they have been in the past. The pre-K has 18 kids and the kindergarten class has 25 to 28 kids.
This year, nine pre-K kids received a seat in P.S. 150’s kindergarten, five because they have siblings in the school and four because they won the lottery. Of the nine children who will not return, five received a seat at P.S. 234, two moved away and two are on the waitlist, parents said.
Kuan, who lives on John St., applied to both P.S. 150 and P.S. 234, but Olivia did not get into either school. Instead, Olivia was offered a spot at P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City, which is opening as an incubator in Tweed Courthouse next fall. That was Kuan’s third choice.
P.S. 150, which has one class per grade, is a lottery school, with children in the P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 zones given preference. P.S. 234 is a zoned school that usually does not hold a lottery for seats but held one this year because of overcrowding.
Rosario Castronovo, whose daughter is in pre-K at P.S. 150, said the lotteries were unfair. He lives across the street from P.S. 234 and applied both there and to P.S. 150. P.S. 150 held its lottery first, and Castronovo’s daughter won a seat, but she did not get into 234. In fact, no child got into both schools, Castronovo said.
Castronovo thinks the two schools coordinated their lotteries, with the kids who got a seat at P.S. 150 removed from the P.S. 234 lottery. P.S. 234’s staff denied that, Castronovo said, but he heard from other parents that it was true. The principals at Lower Manhattan’s overcrowded elementary schools, P.S. 234 and 89, and at the two new incubator schools did compare applications to try and ensure all parents received their second choice at least. Since P.S. 150 is not a zoned school it was not supposed to be factored into the decisions.
“The lottery wasn’t on the up and up,” Castronovo said. “I find it a little too coincidental that nobody received offers to both schools.”
Castronovo said parents should have been present during the lottery to monitor it.
Jacob, the D.O.E. spokesperson, said each school ran its lottery independently, but parents can contact the D.O.E. if they have concerns. Lisa Ripperger, P.S. 234’s principal, did not return a call for comment.
Several parents said that if the D.O.E. keeps its kindergarten admissions policy in place, the character of P.S. 150’s pre-K class will change. Kuan said parents won’t get as involved in the school, and they won’t encourage their children to develop such close friendships.
“I’m not sure that’s what the D.O.E. wants,” she said.