Howto:Navigate the elementary school admission process

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Is your child ready to go to elementary school? That’s great news! Many New Yorkers have been through the Kindergarten admissions process before you, and will tell you as honestly as New Yorkers do that it can be a real challenge to navigate. So where do you start? Here’s some information I hope will help will get you from A – Z, and make the process as smooth as it can be:


Some basic information

New York City has more than 800 public elementary schools. The DOE established a standardized kindergarten admissions process in 2009 that allows parents and guardians to apply to any school they’re interested in. Your child is entitled to attend his or her local neighborhood zoned school, however because some schools face overcrowding problems there are cases in which the DOE will implement a lottery system. The kindergarten admissions process is school-based, but there is a standard timeline for all schools and citywide guidelines for eligibility and admissions priorities. You must submit an application for kindergarten admission even if you are applying to your zoned school. You will need to apply in-person at your zoned school and any other school you’re interested in your child attending. To accept an offer, you must also visit and pre-register your child at the school where your child has been accepted.


1. How do I find out where my zoned school is?

If you do not know where your zoned school is, you can visit the DOE website at and, or call 311 to find out. If you do not have a zoned school, you can visit your local Borough Enrollment Office for more information at

2. What documentation do I need to bring with me to register?

  1. Proof of residence. This consists of any two of the following documents:
    1. A residential utility bill (gas or electric) in the resident's name and dated within the last 60 days;
    2. Documentation or letter on letterhead from a federal, state, or local government agency indicating the resident's name and address and dated within the last 60 days;
    3. An original lease agreement, deed, or mortgage statement for the residence;
    4. A current property tax bill for the residence;
    5. A water bill for the residence dated within the last 60 days;
    6. Official payroll documentation from an employer dated within the last 60 days, such as a form submitted for tax withholding purposes or payroll receipt (a letter on the employer's letterhead will not be accepted);
  2. Child’s birth certificate or passport;
  3. Child’s immunization records;
  4. Names of any siblings who will be enrolled in grades 1-5 at the school in 2010-2011.

3. Zoned schools and admissions priorities—How do they work?

Zoned schools will give priority to students who live in that zone. Schools will make assignments according to a set of priorities. These priorities can change so you should check the DOE website for the most updated list: For the 2011-12 school year, the priorities were as follows (listed from highest priority to lowest):

  1. Zoned students with a sibling who will be in grades 1-5 at the school in 2011-2012;
  2. All other zoned students;
  3. Students residing in the school’s district but outside the school’s zone, with a sibling who will be in grades 1-5 at the school in 2011-2012;
  4. Student residing outside of the school’s district with a sibling who will be in grades 1-5 at the school in 2011-2012;
  5. All other students residing in the school’s district but outside the school’s zone,
  6. All other students.

What to look for on a school tour

You will certainly want to check out your neighborhood school first. Visit, if the school offers a tour or open house. Attend a PTA meeting. Talk to parents about what they like and don't like. Some parents even volunteer in the neighborhood elementary school while their children are still in nursery school to get a good feeling of the school's strengths and weaknesses. As you tour schools, consider the following:

Are the children happy?

The nicest schools make you slightly envious of your child. You'll wish you were 5 years old again so you could start kindergarten. Does it seem like a friendly or forbidding place?

Are parents welcome?

Are there ways that parents can be involved, not just as members of the parents association, but as visitors to the school or volunteers in the classrooms? Is the principal's door really open to parents? Are there events parents are invited to throughout the year?

What is the principal like?

A good principal can transform a mediocre school into a gem in just a few years. A bad principal can dismantle good programs and demoralize a competent staff just as quickly. What good principals have in common is an abiding respect for the pupils in their care, a respect that is obvious even on a brief tour. It's fine to be strict, but watch out for principals who yell at kids or who regularly use a bullhorn to keep order. A principal should be not merely an administrator, but an educational leader who can articulate his or her vision for the school and help the staff carry it out.

Are there examples of children's work?

Look for children's work (not decorations made by the teacher or provided by a textbook company) displayed on the bulletin boards and walls, preferably not identical shapes cut from construction paper, but work that shows individual thought and creativity. Look for examples of children's writing, even in the earliest grades. Good schools have plenty of fun-to-read books — not textbooks — but picture books as well as novels, books about historical events, biographies and science discovery books. Good schools have plenty of things children can touch and feel in math and science. Look for classrooms with live animals, plants, fish tanks and materials such as magnets and electric motors.


Registration can feel overwhelming, but I hope this information will help you navigate the process with as much ease as is possible!

For detailed information on the kindergarten admissions process, you can visit the DOE website at:

Additional resources

Inside Schools is another great source of information, offering an on-the-ground perspective of all things-DOE: To help navigate the kindergarten admissions process, Inside Schools suggests you consider the following

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