Thursday, January 31

Details on the pre-K proposal: No more variances, no more principal discretion

Last night I went to the first of five public hearings held by the DOE about the proposed new system for handling pre-K and kindergarten admission. I was surprised that there were no more than about three dozen parents there — but the DOE did just announce the policy at the end of last week.

Read Insideschools' overview for background on the proposal. I learned many more details last night:

  • If the proposal goes through (and the "if" here really means "when"), all pre-K registration activities thus far this year will have been rendered moot. Keep going to open houses, but if principals promise you a slot or ask for your commitment to their school, remember that it probably won't matter. And you'll have to pick up and return a pre-K application, even if you think you've already done that.
  • A large part of completing the application will be trying to figure out your likelihood of admission to the schools you list. If your zoned school has a popular pre-K program, you'll probably want to list it first, because if you list it second, all the seats could be taken by other zoned children before you're even considered. As Marty Barr of OSEPO said last night, it would make sense to try to get into a program outside of your zone only when the program you want is large and doesn't usually have that many people applying — which does not describe the most desirable programs, of course.
  • Kids with IEPs will continue to be placed by the Committee on Preschool Special Education — their parents won't have to fill out an application.
  • Within each priority level, siblings will receive preference for admission. So after all the zoned children who rank a pre-K program first are admitted, the sibling of a child enrolled in that school from outside the zone would get priority over other out-of-zone students for admission.
  • The DOE says that pre-K programs at community-based organizations will follow the same calendar, so if you want a back-up plan should you not get into any public school pre-K program, you will want to apply to your top-choice CBO programs in March as well.
  • Everyone in pre-K this fall and afterward will have to reapply for kindergarten, including families in their zoned school who want to stay there. A child who gets into an out-of-zone or unzoned school for pre-K will have no assurance or even priority to be allowed to stay there for kindergarten.
  • The DOE has no idea how it will deal with seats that open up due to children leaving the city, enrolling in CBO-run pre-K programs, or choosing private schools. Barr said OSEPO has considered a second round of applications (at this, parents last night booed) or assigning children on an "over-the-counter" basis.
  • The proposal has no built-in appeals process, but OSEPO Director Liz Sciabarra seemed open to adding one. In 2009, if you are assigned to a school for kindergarten that doesn't work for your family, you can apply to transfer. Barr and Sciabarra said the transfer process will remain the same.
The new process may wind up being simpler and fairer, as the DOE says it will be, but it certainly does change the game this year for many families entering the system. What should be the major takeaways for parents? First, schools that have accepted kids on an individual basis will not be able to do so any more; principals will no longer have any discretion to issue variances. In addition, the process is heavily weighted toward keeping kids in their zoned schools. The way to give yourself the best chance of getting into your first-choice pre-K program and kindergarten in 2009 is to move into that school's zone.

What's your take on this proposal? Let Insideschools know in the comments, and then let the DOE know by emailing You can also attend one of the three remaining public hearings; see our calendar for details on dates and locations.

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