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Long Waiting Lists Again for Kindergarten Seats

Sunday, April 08, 2012 - 10:49 PM

More than 2,400 children are on waiting lists to get into kindergarten classes at their zoned New York City public schools in September -- partly as a result of an increase in applications, city officials said.

The Department of Education says it received 62,287 kindergarten applications -- 600 more than last year. But the number of incoming students who didn't get into their zoned schools right away is slightly smaller than last year, when 2,642 children did not get into their zoned schools.

Still, for the second year in a row a total of 125 city schools have waiting lists for zoned students, mostly in neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan that have attracted more families.

In Lower Manhattan, for example, the three local schools for Battery Park City and Tribeca all have waiting lists. Karen Behrens, who lives in Battery Park City, said she was surprised when her 4-year old daughter was among 25 children in the zone for Public School 276 who were wait-listed. She said she was told not to expect any problem when she toured the school earlier this year.

"We didn't apply anywhere else because we were made to feel very confident this was not going to be an issue," she said, adding that her daughter is No. 23 on the waiting list, according to the letter she received last month.

Ms. Behrens is among several parents who question whether the Education Department has kept up with rising demand for seats, despite the creation of new schools. The new Peck Slip school, P.S. 343, was supposed to alleviate crowding in Lower Manhattan. But it already has a wait list of seven students for the first class of kindergarten students next fall, who will be housed in the department's Tweed Courthouse headquarters while the building is renovated.

Shannon McCue, who said her daughter is last on the waiting list for P.S. 276 in Battery Park, said she hoped the city will squeeze more children into Tweed if the waiting lists don't shrink enough. "It seems like they're just over-capacity," she said.

The Department of Education said waiting lists should decrease by the fall as families learn whether their children were accepted to gifted and talented programs, charter schools and private schools.

"We know that this can be an anxious time for parents," said a department spokesman, Frank Thomas. "We will continue to work with all of our schools to help them reduce wait lists and ensure that every student has access to a great kindergarten."

Schools may be encouraged to add kindergarten sections, for example, if space permits. The city expects thousands more students to apply over the summer and in the first week of school. Mr. Thomas said only a few hundred students were not able to attend their zoned schools last September.

The department gives priority to students who live in the zone of the school to which they are applying, and to siblings. Those who can't get seats are sent to other schools in their district.

Last year, the department said more than 3,200 students were wait-listed. But Mr. Thomas said that number included out-of-zone siblings, meaning children whose families wanted them to attend the same school as their brother or sister, but have since moved out of the local catchment area.

This year the longest waiting list was once again at P.S. 169 in Brooklyn's Sunset Park, with 113 zoned students shut out compared to 99 after admissions letters went out last year.

Nearby, P.S. 94 Henry Longfellow has 111 wait-listed applicants and P.S. 307 Pioneer Academy in Corona, Queens has, 109.

Some families applied to multiple schools hoping to improve their odds. Hyon Su Kwon, who lives in Park Slope, wanted her daughter to attend P.S. 107 John Kimball, which is just a block away. Knowing the school had a waiting list last year, she applied to four other schools. But her daughter was wait-listed at all five.

She described herself as "really frustrated and anxious" because she works full-time, and her commute would be more difficult if she had to take her daughter to a school in another part of Brooklyn.

After talking to a lot of people in the neighborhood, she said she felt like her child would likely get a spot at P.S. 107 because its wait list is not too large. "But until I get the letter I won't be very comfortable," she said.

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