The West 84th Street school — beloved by parents for its chess instruction, Spanish program and high-tech classrooms — is a rising star among the neighborhood's sought-after elementary schools, drawing nearly 10 applications this year for every available spot, according to locals and data obtained by DNAinfo New York.
"It is an extremely well-administered school, with high-quality teachers in both the academic classrooms and the art and gym clusters," said Robin Aronow, of School Search NYC, which advises families on admissions. "The parent body is very active in terms of fundraising and fun-raising with very successful community building activities."
This year's kindergarten application numbers — the first since the city launched its new online Kindergarten Connect system this year, allowing families to apply to up to 20 programs at once — offer a peek into the schools that are most popular in each neighborhood.
Many of the schools with the top 10 most applications citywide boast strong parent involvement, progressive but solid academics and happy kids and teachers, according to parents and principals.
In addition to P.S. 9, the Upper West Side had three more schools in the top 10: P.S. 87 (911 applicants), P.S. 199 (874 applicants) and P.S. 333 (758 applicants), according to Department of Education data obtained by DNAinfo through a Freedom of Information Law request.
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Molly MacDermot, mom of a fifth- and first-grader at P.S. 87 on West 78th Street, said she isn't surprised so many families want their kids to attend the school, which features a Spanish dual-language program.
"The kids wear their 'I Love P.S. 87' T-shirts with pride," MacDermot said.
"P.S. 87 has a nice balance of progressive education — the kids learn by doing, and study tree bark in the park or visit the dioramas at the nearby Museum of Natural History — but they are also given a structure and focus that sets them up to succeed," she added.
Many of the schools that received hundreds of kindergarten applications this year are in areas that have become hubs for affluent families staying in the city to raise kids, like the Upper East Side's P.S. 6 (876 applicants) and P.S. 290 (741 applicants), and Park Slope's P.S. 321 (791 applicants).
Park Slope's P.S. 10 (744 applicants) is popular with families from beyond its neighborhood since it's District 15's only "barrier-free" school, meaning students in wheelchairs can go anywhere in the school. Corona's P.S. 19 (775 applicants) has more kindergartners than any school in the city, with 350 seats in 14 classes, DOE officials said.
Carroll Gardens' Brooklyn New School, which had 901 applicants, accepts students from across the borough, strives for diversity and offers many special education services, giving the school broad appeal.
"We offer a very comprehensive education," principal Anna Allanbrook said of the school on Henry Street, where art, music, science and gym are all given their due in a "child-centered curriculum." The school is also one of the city's most vocal in opting out of standardized tests, with 80 percent of its kids refusing to sit for the controversial exams this spring.
"Learning should be fun," Allanbrook said, adding, "My teachers are very experienced, and they don't leave."
Unlike Brooklyn New School, which conducts a lottery, most elementary schools base admissions on whether families live within the boundaries of the school's zone. The DOE did not change these admissions priorities this year, though this was the first time parents could fill out a single application online ranking up to 20 choices instead of having to visit multiple schools in-person.
(The Kindergarten Connect application numbers do not include gifted and talented programs since that is a separate application process.)
Most families still applied to their local zoned school — where they are supposed to be guaranteed a seat — but many also used the new system to try their luck at getting into other programs, bumping up application numbers at the most popular schools, according to DOE data.
Joyce Szuflita, a consultant with NYC School Help, specializing in Brooklyn schools, said the city should take a close look at the elementary schools that receive hundreds more applications than seats and consider replicating these schools.
"District by district, it is a very clear message about what parents want," Szuflita said. "Families are voting with their applications."