Volume 22, Number 01 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 15 - 21, 2009
Most kindergarteners will get their first choice Downtown
By Dennis M. Walcott
Downtown families with children entering kindergarten next year have been understandably anxious about the admissions process. As a father of four, I know that sending a child off to school for the first time can be stressful even in the best of circumstances. The uncertainty and frustration caused by waitlists has only added to parents’ confusion. I’d like to briefly explain the Dept. of Education’s admissions process, and describe what we’re doing to ensure that every student who applied for kindergarten is enrolled as quickly and fairly as possible.
This year, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein instituted new admissions guidelines designed to make applying to kindergarten fairer. Rather than each school accepting students on a first-come, first-serve basis — a practice that invariably punishes families unable to secure an early seat — this year there was a month-long admissions window, after which all applications were considered based on clear enrollment priorities. Top priority, as always, went to students who live within a school’s zone.
One consequence of these new guidelines was that schools offered kindergarten placements earlier than ever before — before students were offered placements in gifted programs, and before some families opt for private and parochial schools. Because of this earlier timing, and because schools only registered students to whom they could guarantee a seat, an unusually large number of Manhattan students were placed on waitlists. We expect these waitlists to diminish dramatically, and in many cases disappear, as seats open in zoned schools before September. Far more students apply in the spring than attend in the fall. But we know that the new admissions timeline has caused considerable confusion among parents who still don’t know what school their child will attend. We are working aggressively to clarify and resolve enrollment issues at crowded schools, both Downtown and throughout the city.
The situation in Lower Manhattan is unique, since all students waitlisted at a zoned school have already been offered a seat at one of the two schools opening on the first floor of the Tweed Courthouse next year. In order to ease the enrollment burden on P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Downtown parents advocated opening these new schools a year before their permanent buildings are scheduled to be completed. Still, about 75 students who applied to P.S. 234 or P.S. 89 are currently on the waitlist. We know that most of these students will be accepted in the coming months — 53 students zoned for P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 have been offered a placement in a gifted program, and some families may choose a non-public school option. But thanks to the two new schools, we also know that every Lower Manhattan kindergartener will stay in the neighborhood next year, and will attend an outstanding school.
Many parents were frustrated that the D.O.E. did not consider families’ proximity to P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 when making kindergarten placements. Parents told us that it seemed unfair that some students who live in sight of their zoned school were waitlisted, while others living farther away were offered a placement. But the city has an obligation to serve zoned students regardless of their address — everyone in a school’s zone equally expects to send their children to that school. Many families wonder how the addition of two new schools in Downtown Manhattan will affect their opportunity to attend P.S. 234 or P.S. 89 in the future. This is a good question, and one that the D.O.E. will work with the District 2 Community Education Council to address as early as time permits.
As parents who have met the new principals no doubt already know, the two schools opening in Tweed next year will be wonderful additions to the Downtown community. They will also improve learning conditions at P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, which have had to manage the consequences of their own popularity for too long. The mayor is constructing new schools at a rate not seen in New York since the turn of the 20th century, and Downtown parents will soon start to see this investment pay off. We will also continue to monitor population trends to make sure that school construction is keeping pace with demand, and that we enter each new school year prepared to serve Downtown students in desirable, uncrowded, excellent schools.
Dennis M. Walcott is deputy mayor for education and community development in New York City.