Let the games begin. The application period opened on Dec. 7 and will close on Jan. 15. This is NOT a first come, first served process. You can rank up to 12 programs on your application. You do not need to rank your zoned school, but that DOES NOT improve your chances at one of your other choices AND if you don't rank it and if your zoned school is popular with other people, you run the very slight risk of not being placed there and getting sent somewhere you like less. Don't strategize or monkey around. Be straight with this process and it will work for you. Be a 'smart guy' (as my father would say) and you will mess yourself up. The DoE guarantees you a seat at kindergarten, just not necessarily in your zoned school, although, they will make every effort to place you there. If you don't like your zoned school, you can try for other schools in your district, other districts or other boroughs. You have first priority for your zoned school and the people who live in those other zones, districts and boroughs have priority over you for those schools. There may also be un-zoned "schools of choice" that can also go on your list (they are DoE schools that just have a bigger catchment). You can rank individual Dual Language Programs on your list as well.
Gifted and Talented programs and Charter schools WILL NOT be on your ranked application. If your child tests into G&T, you will get to rank those programs later. You will apply to charter schools separately (while they are publicly funded, they are not administered by the DoE) and find out about a placement there later. Don't worry that you won't get the placements at the same time. Your child will attend the last school at which you register. Wait lists move through the spring and even into the fall. If you get an offer at any time from a school other than the school you are initially placed in - you can take or reject that option when it arrives. You just CAN'T be registered for two schools at once (don't be greedy).
Rank schools on your DoE application in the order that you like them. You will not be disadvantaged by putting a 'long shot' high on your list or a 'sure thing' at the bottom. There is no need to strategize about 'which school you have the most likelihood of getting into'. As I said earlier, if you want to mess yourself up - try this method, which will be based only on guesswork and magical thinking. You will be given the school that you have ranked the highest on your list that has room according to your 'priority' (page 5 in the directory). You are being matched with a school according to an algorithm commonly known as "the medical school match". This matching system was devised by two guys who won the Nobel Prize in Economics three years ago. It is an elegant and beautiful work of genius and the DoE has done well in making this the system by which our kids are matched. Of course we all hate it because it tells our kids where they are going to school. Tracy Tullis in The New York Times did an excellent job of describing the match as it works for high school placement. Read this article and replace the geographic priorities from the Kindergarten Directory with the high schools' rankings of you and it works for elementary school in exactly the same way.
We don't know when placements will come in. Since the DoE has moved up the application process by about a month, we will likely hear a few weeks earlier (maybe early to mid March?). Charter Schools usually do their lotteries around April 1. G&T test scores often come back in May and then you quickly fill out a ranked application for those programs if you are eligible. There is usually a quick turn around and placements may come back for those programs in mid to late May or early June.
The DoE expects you to live in the same place during this process (Jan. to Sept.) but that is not the way life works on occasion. If you do move mid process, it is not a tragedy, but it can complicate things. You have priority for a zoned school as you apply but if you are placed there and you "pre-register" and you move before you begin attending, you no longer have 'zoned' priority. You are able to change your address within the DoE's system for gen ed and gifted and talented at any time. What happens if you change horses mid stream really depends on the schools involved- it is too varied for me to discuss here.