Sunday, March 29, 2009

Getting into Kindergarten in Manhattan: a.k.a. Insanity

Loyal readers will be delighted to learn that beginning in September, Poker Chick will begin chronicling what will be a 9-month long journey that represents a unique pleasure of parents living in NYC.

That's right, peeps, she is about to venture into the hell that is figuring out where your 4-year old will go to elementary school.

It is at this point that the naive will simply assume that we are referring to Private school admissions. And the intense process of getting a kindergarten seat at one of Manhattan's elite private schools has certainly been well-documented. So no, Poker Chick is not set out to tell people more of the same. Any Manhattan parent considering private school knows without a doubt the nightmare that they are about to embark on.

No, peeps. We're talking about public school. You see, like many, Poker Chick paid a premium to own a home zoned for an excellent elementary school. She sighed a sigh of relief, knowing this would buy her a few years of free education, and a ticket out of the private school madness should she so choose.

Poor, poor, ignorant Poker Chick. Little did she know that the basic right of an education for your child in your neighborhood does not apply to Manhattan.

According to this article in the NY Times last week, approximately 30% of people who registered for some Upper East Side public schools were put on a wait list. A wait list. As in might not go. Thirty percent, peeps. Consider for a moment the sheer shock of this fact.

So, short of moving to the suburbs, what's a parent to do? See if you can follow the options:

1) Register for your public school and hope. Of course, the deadline for registration changes every year. And it's poorly communicated. And if you miss it you're screwed. But in theory, that is the easy route.

2) Take a state-administered "IQ" test. Relax knowing your child's entire academic destiny rests on how good a mood they are in one afternoon and whether or not they feel like talking to the "tester". If they deem your child "brighter" than 90% of other Manhattan preschoolers, and you are interested, the city has gifted and talented classes within certain schools. Of course, it's only a few. And these schools are nowhere near where you live. And even if you get in you won't necessarily get into your first choice, it might be another, and because there's such a wide range of schools in Manhattan this school may be a hell of a lot worse than the school that's right across the street for you. So there's that.

3) If your child is "brighter" than 96, 97, 98 or 99% of their peers*, one might be lucky enough to be invited to apply to one or more three citywide gifted & talented schools. Three separate programs. Sometimes, they all use one test for cutoffs. Sometimes they use different ones. And - you guessed it - it's different every year. And even after all this more students qualify than they have spots for. So even if you get past all this you have to be lucky enough to be selected at random among these. And who knows which you'll get into. But hey, it's not like they are really different from each other or anything (Note sarcastic tone).

Luckily, you can learn all this on tours of these schools in the fall. That is, if you are lucky enough to call at the exact moment and get one.

3) There is a separate school that is outside of the system but still technically public. This involves a several-hundred dollar psychological assessment, an entirely different screening process including interviews, and of course - entirely different due dates than any of the other options above. Oh, and did we mention several thousand applications for a handful of spots?

4) One can apply for an exception, where you try to get into a public school in your district but not zone. So, afraid of your kid being bussed off to who knows where in September if you don't get into your school, you can try for the one four blocks away that's just as good. This requires a great deal of creativity as you must come up with a reason to justify such an exception. It was a more common practice years ago, but this route is now typically reserved for adrenaline junkies who think they can beat the 1,000,000 to one odds of success and who don't mind the stress of wasting their time in this fashion.

4) There's always private school. Cough up $35,000 or more a year not including books, after school programs and camp, and you can swap all this stress for the different stress of impressing the right people to get your kid in. Then again, at least all those schools have the same dates and all go by one test.

Now, how many think that at the end of this 9 months you can relax? One nightmare of a year and you're done for years, right?

Well that depends. Some schools go through 5th grade and there are far fewer middle schools you might like, not to mention private school has very few spots at that age group. So 5th grade is often the year that sends parents running for the 'burbs. But some of these schools go through 7th grade. One goes through 8th. Another all the way through 12th. But as they say, you never know. You may get lucky! You may win the crap shoot!

And there you have it. The insanely stressful and competitive process for getting your Manhattan 4-year old into PUBLIC school.

As so, Poker Chick is sending out a request to all brilliant math minds out there. If your odds of getting shut out of your school are 30%, and your odds of getting into special school x are 10%, and your odds of getting into special school y are 2%, and your odds of getting into one other amazing school are greater than accidentally finding a frog in your breakfast cereal, what are the odds of getting a desirable kindergarten spot altogether?

This, peeps, is the million dollar question. Welcome to New York.
*Percentage cutoff points are unclear and seems to vary each year. And possibly by school. Of course it does.


Anonymous said...

8:30 on wednesday morning, J will line up to register Z at the school we paid over a million dollars to be zoned for because it is the best school in LAUSD. but at least it's not as crazy as new york!

Anonymous said...

I actually phoned the parent advocate for the district (not specific school) we're thinking of moving into.. and she said that for elementary school there's no worries... just pre-k and kindergarten.

She said that her office has been going crazy - that parents are panicking. But she assured me - for everything after kindergarten it's fine.

If I may be so bold...

I'm not into the whole "Manhattan School Thing" -- and so maybe I'm totally speaking out of my butt.... but -- if you're in a good area can't you just send her to which ever kindergarten she gets into... avoid the stress -- and then just move her to her zoned school for 1st grade?

Ahhhh- that's why I like Forest Hills - close to the city & all the public schools are good... I've thus far totally avoided all that stress.

Good luck!

Gray Matter Matters said...

Two words...sub-urbs. I'll be waiting for you!! And did I mention it's only a 35 minute commute to your office?