Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


School Choice, School Confusion

Upper West Side parents seeking to enroll their children in elementary or middle school have long run a gauntlet of confusing application procedures, and this year is no different. Parents who want their child to attend the zoned, neighborhood elementary school have it easy. No special application is necessary: All they have to do is register in the spring. But if a child is entering middle school, or hopes to take advantage of "school choice" or "gifted and talented" programs, the student must apply.

In Region 10, which covers the West Side from 59th Street to the northern tip of Manhattan -- and includes districts 3, 5 and 6, the exact situation varies from district to district ñ and from elementary school to middle school. But for many parents and children the next several weeks will feature school visits and important decisions.

Parents may now tour elementary and middle schools. (For a list of elementary school tours, click here; for middle schools, click here.) Applications in Region 10 are due December 16 or January 13, depending on the program.

The schools will inform parents of their decisions between February 27 and March 2, although children not admitted on the first round might be admitted later in the spring.

The notifications dates have been moved up to coincide with those of other selective public schools, such as Hunter College Elementary School, and of private schools, said Robin Aronow, a consultant who advises parents on school choice.

Elementary Schools

Many elementary schools in District 3, which stretches from 59th Street to 122nd Street, have room for children from outside their attendance zone. (A number of schools also have "dual language" programs with classes taught in both English and Spanish.) Principals used to have the authority to admit children and could accept applications from out of district as well as out of zone. Now, children who live in District 3 are given preference for kindergarten spots, and the regional office will conduct a lottery in February to determine who is admitted. Siblings of children currently enrolled will have preference.

The most popular schools admitting children under the lottery program are PS 87 and PS 75. Manhattan School for Children has its own admissions policy.

Children in Districts 5 and 6 may apply to District 3 general education programs, but District 3 children get preference, and regional officials predict there will be few seats available for out of district children. Applications are due January 13.

Children in District 5 in central Harlem don't have elementary school choice. (They may, however, apply to gifted programs.)

Children in District 6, covering Washington Heights and Inwood, have a number of school choice options, including Hamilton Heights Academy, Washington Heights Academy, The 21st Century Academy (PS 210), Amistad and Muscota. There is no entrance exam for these schools.

Gifted and Talented Programs

Two Region 10 schools -- the Anderson School and the Special Music School -- accept gifted children from all five boroughs. In addition, the Department of Education has set up "gifted and talented" programs at a number of elementary schools in the region. To be admitted, children must take an IQ test and their nursery school teacher must complete a Gifted Rating Scale assessment. For the most part, schools only accept students from within their district, although District 5 parents may apply to the dual language gifted and talented programs at two District 3 schools -- PS 165 and PS 163. Parents must rank programs in order of preference.

While children living in a school's attendance zone or siblings of students already in the program do not get any preference for the gifted programs, siblings are guaranteed a seat in the general education program in the same building. "The intent is not to break up families," said District 3 superintendent Judi Aronson.

Applications for gifted programs must be submitted by December 16, although test results may be submitted later. The region will test children between January 3 and February 10.

Middle Schools

Tours for middle school are in full swing now. Fifth graders have already received their applications and must submit them by December 16, although some guidance counselors want them sooner.

Inside Schools features profiles of individual middle schools.

A directory of District 3 middle schools is available at the office at 154 West 93rd Street, or by contact Walter Friedman at 212 678-2885.

In addition to the district choice program, District 5 students have a number of options to which they can apply directly, such as Kappa II, Kappa IV, and Frederick Douglass Academy. The district will hold a middle school fair on December 10, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Roberto Clemente Middle School, 625 West 133rd Street.

Students in District 6 will have some new middle school options of their own, including a school operating in conjunction with City College, but itĂ­s too soon to know what the new and expanded programs there will be like. For more information, contact parent support officer, DJ Sheppard at 212-678-2880, Ext. 1.


Working parents have long struggled to find quality care for their children after school and during school vacations. Now, the city has published an online directory of 500 free after-school and vacation programs. Just type in your ZIP code and find the program nearest you.

The directory is part of a new initiative that consolidates most free, city-funded after-school activities under one umbrella. Community organizations will run programs during school holidays and vacations ñ even those irritating half-days will be covered. The directory also includes some programs for teen-agers and some summer programs, such as arts classes, operated in the city parks.

The directory doesn't include all the after-school programs in the city, just those receiving funding from the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Department of Education.

Individuals schools may know about other programs, including private programs that charge a fee, or programs run by a school PTA. For additional options, especially for older children, parents should also consult the directory of Beacon schools on the youth department Web site. Beacons are the 80 schools that are open after school and evenings as well as during vacations. The free programs run by community organizations include community services as well as sports, homework help, and literacy classes.

Although the consolidation of the after school programs and the publishing of a new directory is mostly good news, there are some concerns. While the city has opened new after school programs in neighborhoods that sorely need them, such as Far Rockaway, it has taken funding away from those in neighborhoods where the need is not considered as pressing, particularly in Manhattan. That means that some programs that have to find other funding or close.

"The goal was a noble one," said Michelle Yanche, director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, a policy and advocacy organization. "The problem is that they tried to address is without additional funding. The result is that you are shifting resources from young people who truly need it in one community to young people who truly need it in another community."

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.


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