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Waitlists Stretch to First Grade at P.S. 59

By Mary Johnson | April 3, 2012 9:12am
The Department of Education's Drew Patterson told parents at a recent District 2 Community Education Council meeting that eliminating pre-k classes could be a possibility to free up space for incoming kindergarten classes.
The Department of Education's Drew Patterson told parents at a recent District 2 Community Education Council meeting that eliminating pre-k classes could be a possibility to free up space for incoming kindergarten classes.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

MIDTOWN EAST — Last year, Maura Liconte's daughter was one of dozens of students waitlisted for a kindergarten seat at P.S. 59.

She was instead offered a spot in a school some 25 blocks north of her Midtown East apartment, but she turned it down. She instead found a private school just three blocks away, figuring she could return to P.S. 59 when it moved into a new, bigger home on East 57th Street in the fall of 2012.

But the process has not gone as she planned. Liconte's daughter is once again on a waitlist, this time for first grade.

"I’ve been trying to get my daughter into this school for two years now," Liconte said. "I didn’t expect this for public school at all, and it’s just getting worse and worse as time goes on."

Kindergarten waitlists are a problem at three elementary schools on the east side.

Preliminary numbers obtained by the District 2 Community Education Council indicate that there are roughly 41 children in line for kindergarten at P.S. 59. At P.S. 116 in Kips Bay, the waitlist stands about 26 kids deep. P.S. 40 in Gramercy also has a waitlist, although its size was not immediately clear.

But a waitlist for first grade, like Liconte is now facing, is unique, said Eric Goldberg, a member of the District 2 CEC and a P.S. 116 parent.

"A first-grade waitlist is an uncommon problem," Goldberg explained, "but I think [it's] one that may be increasing."

Goldberg said that kindergarten classes are required — based on teachers union contracts — to have no more than 25 students.

First-grade classes, however, can be larger, with a cap of 32 students per class.

And although kindergarten classes are often combined when students advance to first grade to create fewer, larger sections, there are usually enough open spots to accommodate all incoming students, he added.

"If the waitlist is manageable enough, schools could bring back that balance," Goldberg explained.

But longer kindergarten waitlists could make first-grade waitlists more common, as kids who were sent to overflow schools for their first year of school try to return to their local elementary institutions.    

Liconte said she does not yet know where her daughter sits on the first-grade waitlist at P.S. 59, since the Department of Education has not released the official numbers.

A spokesman for the DOE said those figures will be announced once the department has a better sense of which students have accepted offers and which students have declined, to provide a more accurate picture of the situation.  

There has also been some discussion about eliminating pre-k classes to make more room in schools across the city.

In the meantime, Liconte said her daughter has taken the gifted-and-talented test, which will provide her with more options if she qualifies. But Liconte said she would prefer that her daughter attend P.S. 59.

"I really want her to go to public school. I like the public school," she said. "I like the principal. I like the whole program."

Liconte said sitting on multiple public-school waitlists has made her seriously contemplate moving out of New York City entirely.

"How many Starbucks can you count on a street corner, and you mean to tell me we can’t accommodate enough schools?" she asked rhetorically. "It’s just a really stressful thing."

Liconte is not the only one concerned about the prospects of getting into P.S. 59 after kindergarten.

One mother, who asked that her name not be used, said her daughter had landed on the waitlist for kindergarten at P.S. 59.

Sending her daughter to an overflow school for just one year will be a challenge, she said. But now the 43-year-old single mother is concerned that she will find herself in the same place as Liconte, facing the same problem next year.

"I don’t think we’re getting in," she said. "[And] if I don’t get in this year, I’m not even guaranteed a place in first grade, even if I’m in the public school system."

"There is no answer. It’s just a fact of life. It’s a fact of New York City," she added. "I will be placed in a school, but it will be 10 blocks or 20 blocks from here."