Deadline for Controversial Kindergarten Connect Gets Extended by a Week

By Amy Zimmer on February 12, 2014 4:56pm 

 Two 4-year-olds at the Bloomingdale Family Program's Head Start center get ready for nap time. Both are on track to start kindergarten in September 2014 and their parents are in the middle of the enrollment process.
Two 4-year-olds at the Bloomingdale Family Program's Head Start center get ready for nap time. Both are on track to start kindergarten in September 2014 and their parents are in the middle of the enrollment process.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

MANHATTAN — The deadline for the city's new online kindergarten application was extended by a week to Feb. 20, Department of Education officials announced Wednesday.

Officials said the deadline was pushed back from Feb. 14 to give families additional time to sign up through Kindergarten Connect, which has come under fire by critics for leaving some parents behind in a digital divide.

The centralized system allows parents to rank up to 20 schools on one form, rather than having them make personal visits to drop off applications at each individual school they're interested in, as was the previous practice.

Despite moving the registration process online, the city's zones and admissions priorities remained unchanged.

"We've made it easier to to apply to kindergarten, and as a result, some schools will see an increase in their application numbers," said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield. "But, school admissions priorities have not changed, and zoned students will be admitted first as they have been in the past."

But this fact hasn't stopped many families from trying their luck at getting their kids into some of the city's top elementary schools, according to preliminary figures.

For instance, more than 600 families applied for the 250 seats at Park Slope's popular P.S. 321, its parent coordinator said. Nearly 500 families applied for the 120 seats at Greenwich Village's high-performing P.S. 41, its parent coordinator said.

Nearly 600 applications flooded the Upper West Side's P.S. 199, which has 148 spots, according to the PTA president of the well-regarded school.

"People seem confused, thinking that they have to list more than their zoned school," said P.S. 321's parent coordinator Margaret Keiser. "There’s nothing to prevent folks from listing [our school], even though many are way too low on the food chain."

Families will receive offers based on schools’ admissions priorities. How parents ranked schools comes into play only if a family could have been offered more than one placement, in which case, the child will receive an offer to the school ranked highest, DOE officials explained.

This ensures that all families will get an offer at the same time in early April, unlike before where families might get a waitlist notice in March and then an offer in June. There will, however, still be waitlists — for instance, if a family gets their third choice, they will remain on the waitlist for the schools they ranked first and second, officials said.

Kindergarten Connect has generated some controversy, especially from advocates and preschools working with families who don't have computer access or speak languages other than English. Though instructions for the online system are translated, the application itself is not.

Families can also register by phone — in over 200 languages — or in-person at borough enrollment offices.

But many families said being able to register in person at a school in addition to the online option would be preferable since many families like the face-to-face interaction and guidance they get from school administrators.

"It's a personalized experience that the parents actually appreciated," said Michele Farinet, parent coordinator at P.S. 41, noting that her school remained unsure about how much time it would take them to comb through applications to verify information plugged into the online application.

"How much extra work this gives each individual school remains to be seen," she said.

"We are a zoned school, and we do not have to accept out of zone applicants since we fill from our zone," she added. "I just hope that non-zoned families' expectations have not been raised in a manner that is unrealistic."

Noah Gotbaum, a public school parent who sits on District 3's Community Education Council on the Upper West Side, criticized the Bloomberg administration handing off the untested system to the next administration.

"I imagine you'll have a lot of dissatisfied parents who didn't understand what they were signing up for in the first place," he said. "We see Kindergarten Connect as a time bomb set to explode."

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