Volume 20, Number 39 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 9 - 15, 2011
Lines, lotteries signal same old song for elementary schools
BY Aline Reynolds
The lines in front of Lower Manhattan elementary schools are once again forming, the same way they have been for the last two years. Kindergarten registration for the 2011-12 school year is already creating angst among Downtown parents who are itching to know where their child will be going to school next fall.
Pre-registration, which began on January 10, is a good forecaster for next year’s enrollment at the Lower Manhattan elementary schools, which have already received more applications than they have seats.
P.S. 234 is once again proving to be an extremely popular choice for Lower Manhattan families. The school has received 163 applicants for 125 seats one month into pre-registration, causing its administrators to resort to a lottery for the third year in a row.
Public schools citywide are mandated by the New York City Department of Education to arbitrarily admit students in these situations, since they aren’t allowed to admit them on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to D.O.E. Spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.
“If a school has more applicants than more zoned spots for during pre-registration period,” he said, “they have a responsibility to determine which pre-registered zoned students are getting an offer, and which pre-registered zoned students they waitlist on a random basis.”
Magdalena Lenski, the school’s parent coordinator, said the stress level among parents this year is lower compared to three years ago, when administrators introduced the system to the school.
“You don’t have the panic as you had in that first year,” she said. “I’m not sure if it’s because now they know there’ll be a lottery,” which is “kind of a matter of course at this point.”
Besides, Lenski noted, not everyone who applies and gets in accepts the seat, since many parents end up enrolling their children in gifted and talented programs or private schools.
P.S. 234, which opened in 1988, first started holding lotteries in 2008, when the number of kindergarten applicants surpassed the school’s capacity.
Despite the calmness that Lenski described, however, parents of pre-schoolers in the neighborhood are worried that their children may not be the school’s lucky picks. The thought of Tribeca resident Silke Steinberg’s four-and-a-half-year-old son, Alexander, not getting into P.S. 234, for example, is making her very upset.
In addition to hearing praise from neighbors about the school, Steinberg said she has a good gut feeling about it. “It’s such a great school and community,” she said, “and the academic levels are totally up to par.”
It’s only fair, she argued, that Alexander get preference over youngsters that are new to the area, she said. The family has been living in the neighborhood since 2003. “We’re loyal Downtown residents – I definitely think there should be a way to put that into consideration,” said Steinberg.
Only zoned siblings, however, get priority in public school lotteries, according to the D.O.E.
Silke has filled out an application for P.S. 150 (The Tribeca Learning Center) and P.S. 276. She is also considering the private school route.
Despite the back-up plans, though, she is still very determined to win a seat for Alexander at P.S. 234.
“We’re not going to give up. If they’re not going to give us a spot right away, we’re going to wait until September,” she said, even if it means having to forfeit a down-payment at a different school.
Tribeca resident Betty Huber has also heard great things about P.S. 234. She was “extremely impressed” by the school’s principal, Lisa Ripperger, during a recent tour of the school, and feels comfortable with the city’s public school system, having herself gone through it as a youth.
Just as importantly, she said, “we’d like our child to go to a school with his neighbors. “We really want him to have a sense of his community.”
The family has foregone sending out applications to private schools elsewhere in Manhattan, Huber said, since they wouldn’t want their son, Thomas, to have to make the daily trek to school by bus or subway.
Shino Tanikawa, first vice president of Community Education Council District Two, said the C.E.C. is “very concerned” about overcrowding in P.S. 234. “It was the hardest hit because [of] the way the school was zoned [last year],” she said.
P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City is also contending with an excess number of kindergarten applications. The school, which now has four kindergarten sections that hold a total of 100 youths, is contemplating opening up a fifth section to accommodate all students that desire a seat in next year’s kindergarten class. Approximately 70 have applied so far, according to Erica Weldon, the school’s parent coordinator.
Adding new sections to the grades is a collaborative decision between the school and the D.O.E., according to Rosenfeld.
“If a zoned school, for instance, has roughly 25 more zoned applicants than they currently have seats for, they would reach [out] to us, and we’d take a look at the space they have,” he said. “If we come to an agreement with them that they have room for an extra kindergarten section… we’ll partner with them and create an additional section.”
As the school expands into a full elementary and middle school, though, P.S./I.S. 276 will begin to run out of room for a surplus of kindergarteners.
“If we have more than four each year, it’s going to be a problem,” Weldon said.
Terri Ruyter, the school’s principal, said she is not worried. “It’s a zero sum game,” she said, since some families who apply in the spring ultimately choose to send their kids to gifted and talented programs or private schools come September. Others, she said, move out of the district altogether before and during the school year.
“It doesn’t do us well to panic about things we don’t have control over in the future,” said Ruyter, noting that the wait list last year eventually disappeared. “I have a lot of confidence things will shake out just fine this year.”
P.S. 89, which accepts students pre-K to fifth grade, has received 60 applications so far for 65 available slots — a pretty similar count to this time last spring, according to Parent Coordinator Connie Schraft. “We always take a few more than we’re slotted to,” she said, “because there are so many people who move or go to a gifted-and-talented or private school,” she said.
If the school has to hold a lottery, it will, Schraft said, but, either way, the administration isn’t concerned about overcrowding.
“I think it worked last year, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work this year.”
Kindergarten pre-registration ends March 4, and registration will take place the week of March 21. The D.O.E. will notify families of their seat assignments on or before April 15.
In the meantime, the D.O.E. indicated, parents will just have to be patient.
“We understand the anxiety of parents,” said Rosenfeld, “and just like last year, we’ll work to provide every single child on a waitlist with a quality seat at a local school.”