CHELSEA — As the kindergarten admission process starts, parents in Chelsea are faced with a dizzying choice.
While most parents in the neighborhood will choose between P.S. 3 and P.S. 41, an increasing number of families living above West 16th Street are vying for spots at P.S. 11.
Going even higher, above West 26th Street, P.S. 33 becomes an option.
Real estate in the zone of southern Chelsea and the Village has long been in demand by parents wanting to get their kids into the high-ranked schools there but, with the addition of Gifted and Talented programs, both P.S. 11 and P.S. 33 have gained prestige.
A controversial proposal that would have split the neighborhood south of West 18th Street school zone in two was put on hold in December after many parents fought against it so, for now, parents livingin that catchment area still have a choice between P.S. 3 at 490 Hudson St. and P.S. 41 at 116 W. 11th St.
Chelsea parents above West 16th Street are zoned for P.S. 11 at 320 W. 21st St., which has improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade.
While P.S. 33 at 281 9th Ave. has seen improvements, its reputation is still lagging amongst many parents. In late 2011, residents from the Penn South buildings passionately protested against a rezoning proposal that would have sent their children to the less-respected P.S. 33.
No matter which school you choose, there's sure to be some tough competition for schools in the area according to Eric Goldberg, co-chair of the District 2 Community Education Council's Zoning Committee, especially at P.S. 41.
With a huge population boom in the district — there's been a 22 percent increase in enrollment over the past five years — some children could wind up on waiting lists.
"Enrollment growth has been large, expect it to continue," said Goldberg. "As it does, wait lists are growing too."
Parents have until March 2 to enroll their children in a school. Students are given priority based on several factors. First priority goes to students who live in the zone who have a sibling at the school, and next priority goes to in-zone students without a sibling.
The rise in applications for public school has further reduced the chance of parents in the neighborhood getting their children into schools outside their zone, Goldberg said.
Downtown's P.S. 234, with its high test scores and progressive education philosophy, always sends students to a wait list, Goldberg said, so it might not even be worth it for a Chelsea or West Village parent to apply to that school.
"In all likelihood, they wouldn't get into 234," he said.
There's also a danger in applying for popular schools outside of your district — when parents are placed on a wait list, they're not given a choice for their alternate placement. Last year, some parents zoned for P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 were asked to send their children to schools as far away as the East Village.
One other thing to remember — enrollment doesn't take into account children who are accepted into gifted and talented programs. There are 250 gifted and talented seats in the district, which means that many kids who are initially accepted to schools end up shifting to a gifted and talented program — freeing up space for students on a waiting list.
Private schools also typically don't begin making application decisions until the beginning of February, and students whose parents have applied to private schools also typically apply to their zoned elementary school prior to then.
With all the frustration, Goldberg advised parents going through the admissions process to be patient.
"The hope is that you’ll find a spot in your zoned school," he said. "If you're placed on a wait list, it might be best to explore your options for alternate placements."
Parents wanting to enroll their children in kindergarten have until March 2 at 3 p.m. to deliver an application, which needs to include the child's birth certificate or passport and two proofs of residence to their chosen school, to the Manhattan enrollment office at 333 Seventh Ave. For more information visit the Department of Education's enrollment page.