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Navigating the system: New York

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By GreatSchools Staff

Get the 311

One of the first steps is to call 311 to find out what your zoned school is. Perelstein warns not to take a fellow parent’s word for what school your child is zoned for, because it changes often. Also if your zoned school is full, you will get sent somewhere else. So start by calling 311.

Prepare the paperwork

When you register your child, you have to bring a bunch of paperwork directly to the school you are registering for. Make sure you have everything before you head out to the school:
• Your child’s birth certificate or passport
• Immunization records
• Proof of residence (check the website for a full list of acceptable documents)    • If your child is in special education, bring her Individual Education Program (IEP) and/or 504 Accommodation Plan.

Child first

Most elementary school children do attend their neighborhood school, but if you are not happy with your zoned school, you have other options including specialty programs, and un-zoned schools (these accept children by special application or lottery. They are also referred to as option, choice, or magnet schools.)

While you may be drawn to schools that have a good reputation, parents should consider their child before the school, says Perelstein. Think about how your child learns best, if she has particular talents or weaknesses and which schools will offer the best for her. Think about other situations where your child has thrived. How does she do socially? Does she need special help academically? Does she get most excited about math, but not reading? Does she love big groups or small intimate settings?
Talking to other parents about schools in the system will give you a piece of the puzzle, but they may not provide the information you need for your child.

Do your homework

The first stop in narrowing your choices is’s New York page . From there you can browse schools in your neighborhood and begin setting up a “search and compare” list, including private schools and preschools. You can not only see test scores but read the comments of other parents. The NYC school website  provides another source of indispensible information. The site lets you enter your address to find out what school you’re zoned for and links you directly to the school’s site so you can look at all their stats, including NCLB report cards, class size, special education reports, demographics, attendance rates, and the school’s budget.

The site also has a section called “Choosing a school” that has a school search tool and information on all of the city’s options, including charters, gifted and talented schools, and English language learning schools., an independent non-profit that contains loads of information on NYC schools, has a search tool that includes all the schools, including charters, magnets, dual language programs, and gifted and talented programs.

Brown started a folder for each school she was considering. She pored over all the stats for each school, and wrote down the information so that she could easily compare her choices. She also used the folder to keep track of the various deadlines for each school’s application process.

Comments from readers

"This is a good concise article on applying to NYC public schools. Just a few comments to add. 1.The zoning information on both the School Search feature on the DOE website and thus at 311 or any other website that depends on the DOE information, is not always accurate. This is particularly true if rezoning or the introduction of new schools has taken place. (As I write this on 8/26/11, the information is inaccurate for some addresses.) The final voice on whether your child is zoned for a particular school or not is the school itself. One can often find more up-to-date zoning maps on the websites of specific Community Education Councils. 2. There are both district schools of choice and citywide options. As many of the district schools of choice, with general education programs, have become extremely popular, it has become exceedingly difficult to get in if you do not live in the district or have a sibling there. PS 150 and PS 212 are basically District 2 options. Similar progressive schools such as Ella Baker, and Central Park I and II will accept children from out of the district. NEST+M along with Anderson, TAG, STEM, and Brooklyn School of Inquiry are Gifted and Talented Citywide Options that require a child to score a minimum of 97% on G&T measures, and in the case of many, to score 99% and be a lucky 99% as many more students score 99% than there are citywide options. 3. Some school districts offer Dual Language programs in which students are immersed in a second language, Spanish, French or Mandarin, for example. The programs aim to have 50% of the students dominant in English and 50% bilingual or dominant in the second language. Preference is presently given to those zoned for the school, but if your child is fluent in the second language, there might be an opportunity to pick up a seat in one of these programs. "