tale of two wait lists: you don't want your zoned school

There are two different kinds of DoE wait lists for public kindergarten and the problem is that they are both called, "the wait list". I will clarify.

If you don't want to be in your zoned school (or you don't like it quite as much as a couple of other schools that you ranked higher), you have probably been placed in your zoned school (whether you listed it on your app or not because it is the school that you have the highest priority for) - you will be placed automatically on wait lists at ALL the schools that you have ranked higher than the school you were placed in. The 'other wait list' that I refer to is the 'Capped Zone School Wait List' (also commonly referred to as 'the wait list') which is only for families who can't get into their zoned schools because they are over capacity. The schools city wide will be 'pre-registering' the families who have been placed in them through April 8. There is no downside to pre-registering at the school you are placed in. It DOES NOT impact your wait list placements. Not pre-registering does not force the DoE's hand. It only leaves you with no placement come Sept. If you HATE the school you were placed in and you don't pre-register, there is no guarantee that you will get another placement, and the school will likely be trying to give away your seat after April 8. You should have a good plan B.

These wait lists will be ordered according to your geographic priority. It is likely that you have an 'out of zone/ in district' or 'out of zone/ out of district' priority. Your priority comes after all the in-zone people, and the out of zone and district siblings and any random prek kids. The list will be randomized within the priorities. The schools will be getting those lists, if they don't have them already, and in previous years, they have not been numbered.

This blog is NOT about charter schools, who will do their lotteries in early April and will have numbered wait lists.

Here is what you need to know about the public school process:

  • don't harass the school right now! They are pre-registering through 4/8. Calling and harassing them, in the thought that you will be the first one off the wait list is STUPID. They don't know if they have a single seat for out of zone people right now. If I was that secretary taking your calls that were jamming my phone line, I would want to take you LAST. The thing is that they don't have the discretion to monkey with the list. It is ordered by the DoE and they have to go by that order.
  • don't ask them your number on this wait list. It isn't numbered. (Update: this year the wait lists are numbered, and some schools are giving out those numbers, some are not for the reason below.) The wait list is clumped according to priority. If someone moves into the zone in May- they have a higher priority than you and they will bump you down. You will be mad that your number moved in the wrong direction and you will yell at the secretary.
  • the lists will move a bit at these times; right after the pre-registration around the week of April 11 (when people have decided that they don't want their zoned placement and when charter schools begin to make their placements), after G&T registration (we don't even know G&T scores yet- this will be in the very late spring) AND the middle of Sept. (Yes! after school has begun) when the schools see who actually shows up after summer is over. The wait lists end on Oct. 31.
  • you can keep in touch with the schools - but remember the golden rule! and ask the Parent Coordinator how to keep in touch (phone or email), don't go in person unless they tell you to, don't tell them how much you LOVE them (that is cringey and this is a Public School whose mission is to serve all children not just the people who have weird crushes on them), don't volunteer at school that you don't attend or try and have your friends on the PTA put in a good word for you (this is not private school- and that advice is a big alligator in the sewer- if the school you love has a real professional at the helm, she will be disgusted that you think influence peddling will get you a seat, and if she takes you because you bribed her with 'parental involvement' she can get in deep trouble). If there is some legitimate educational reason that their school is a better fit than your zoned school (and 'I like you better' is not a legitimate educational reason), then you could write a note, which the principal can read or ignore as she sees fit but it won't change your geographic priority.

What 'works': Staying on the wait list until everyone else goes away. This process is counter intuitive to everything it means to be a New Yorker. Being 'in it!' early doesn't work. Being in it late (when the list has FINALLY gotten to your geographic priority and all other people have gotten tired and signed up for something else- works. Being ready to change schools - after school has begun - works. I am not saying you are guaranteed to get into any school you want this way. Many popular schools WILL NEVER have seats for people on the wait list. 

Your mission is to stay present and steady throughout the spring, summer and early fall with this message: "I am active on the wait list and I will take the seat if offered.  May I contact you (and how would you prefer) next week? next month? when would you like me to contact you after school has begun?" Human nature never changes. We all want to lock down a spot early and when school starts, we have 'attached' and we don't want to leave. If you have a stomach of iron and balls of brass and can tolerate not really knowing until Halloween, you may actually get a school that you want. Some people will be lucky, but most (that will get an alternate seat) will just be patient.

One last thing. Once you are on the wait lists that are managed by individual schools, you could get offers all out of order. It doesn't matter. You can accept or reject any and all offers that come to you. As you register at a new offer, your old registration is voided, opening a seat in that school for someone else. If you take an offer- you still on the wait lists of ALL the other schools. If charter schools and G&T programs come into the mix, it is also- accept or reject whatever may come. You will be attending the last school that you have registered at. That is why there can be this huge, slow round robin.

Catherine May Saillard, Owner of ICI Restaruant in Ft. Greene (and a wonderful long time client) sent this about finding a second location for her new restaurant and it was so beautiful, and relevant, I had to send it on:

"During that process I realized that my vision was set in motion, and that I had changed for good my way of operating: I don't need to push and always go hard, but rather I should march purposely and with fluidity to my goals, learning to trust, and letting go completely to stay open to what is around me." -C.M. Saillard