WINDSOR TERRACE — Students danced into classrooms at the brand-new pre-K in District 15 Monday morning, and more will be joining them soon.
The Department of Education opened seven pre-K classrooms for 126 students inside the former Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in Windsor Terrace, and officials said they plan to add more seats for families on a waiting list.
A music teacher from nearby P.S. 10, whose principal will oversee the new program, serenaded families with "Don't Worry, Be Happy" during morning drop-off.
"The children were so excited," P.S. 10 Principal Laura Scott said. "They danced into the place because they were so excited to see what would happen next."
Parents were thrilled too. Students won their seats through a last-minute lottery announced Aug. 25, an 11th-hour addition to Mayor Bill de Blasio's universal pre-K push.
For some families, a seat at the free full-day program meant a reprieve from steep bills at private preschool programs and the chance to work more hours.
"It was huge for us," said mom Amy Flynn. She and her husband were "dumbstruck" when they found out their son Rowan would be attending the new program. They pulled him out of a play group that costs $9,000 a year, and Flynn will go back to work part-time.
Flynn got in line at 5:30 a.m. to sign up for the lottery. The family had applied to 12 pre-K programs and four community-based organizations, but none had slots available.
The seats at Bishop Ford were open to all families in District 15, which includes Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Sunset Park. Several schools in the "tremendously overcrowded" district have cut pre-K programs in recent years to make room for needed kindergarten classes, said District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop.
At least three district elementary schools — P.S. 321, P.S. 94 and P.S. 169 — are packed with more than 1,500 students, Skop said.
"There's a huge need [for pre-K seats]," Skop said. "People were so excited to have this opportunity for their children."
At least two more sections of pre-K will likely be added to the Bishop Ford program this fall to accommodate families who were waitlisted, Skop said.
The new classrooms at Bishop Ford are full-day and run from 8:40 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Scott said Monday that a staff member would stay late to accommodate parents who needed to make later pickups, and that the site may add an after-school program.
Scott was selected to lead the program because P.S. 10 is "an exemplary school" whose seasoned staff could handle the additional pressure, Skop said.
Scott said she hired teachers who she knew could hit the ground running, and they put in extra hours to transform the former high school into a warm setting for 4-year-olds.
Dusty classrooms were repainted in cheery yellows and pinks, floors were retiled, new furniture was installed and colorful banners were hung proclaiming "Hip Hip Hooray for Pre-K." On Monday morning, the front door was decorated with balloons.
The makeover seemed to put students at ease, Scott said.
"Most of the crying came from parents, not kids," Scott said. "I think we had eight crying parents and three crying kids."