BROOKLYN — Park Slope mom Libby Chisholm Fearnley was perplexed when she recently got her son's pre-K offer.
The offer was for a pre-K center that was run by the DOE and housed inside P.S. 118, the Maurice Sendak Community School — but the center itself wasn't run by the school's principal. Fearnley knew and respected the principal of the school, but was in the dark about the name of the individual or individuals who would be running her son's program.
But when she asked for information from the DOE about the people who would be on-site to run the facility, she said she couldn't get a straight answer.
"We've gotten three phone calls and at least one email in an effort to reassure us of the quality of our placement," Fearnley said, adding that none of those calls included names of staff or directors.
The mystery is partially due to the fact that school officials are still in the midst of the hiring process for their 57 "standalone" pre-K centers, most of which are new or expanding, offering 6,700 seats across the city as part of the city's "Pre-K for All" program, Department of Education officials told DNAinfo New York.
While the programs are run by the DOE, and some are located in school buildings, the pre-K programs are not directly affiliated with the schools, according to DOE officials.
Yet the programs will be staffed and operated by DOE early childhood teachers and specialists, as opposed to community-based early childhood education centers, which contract with and are overseen by the city but don't employ DOE teachers, school officials said.
Josh Wallack, the DOE's deputy chancellor of strategy and policy, stressed that the programs will be staffed by top-notch early childhood specialists.
"The chancellor is watching [these centers] carefully and the superintendents are going to select the early childhood education directors," he said.
For parents confused about where their pre-K program fits into the DOE's model, DNAinfo has created a list of things you need to know about the city's so-called "standalone" pre-K programs.
1. What's the difference between a public school pre-K and a DOE-run standalone pre-K?
A standalone pre-K is operated by the Department of Education, but is not officially affiliated with any particular school. The model for these centers is a pre-K program the DOE created last year inside the former Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in Windsor Terrace, which grew to have an "enthusiastic fan base," according to Wallack.
2. What is the difference between a community-based pre-K and a DOE-run standalone pre-K?
Community-based pre-K programs are contracted by the DOE to provide services to students, but are not run by the DOE, the way that standalone programs are.
3. Will my child's standalone pre-K be overseen by a principal?
Not necessarily. While the Bishop Ford center — which started with 126 seats and has grown to offer 504 seats as of next September — is overseen by the principal of the nearby highly regarded P.S. 10, the new DOE-run centers are not tapping principals of existing schools because those principals already have a large workload, Wallack said.
Instead, a director in each district with standalone centers will be appointed to oversee those centers. Each center will also have an extra teacher on hand who will serve as a site coordinator to work with families and support teachers. Some centers, depending on their size — which range from 20 to 500 seats — will also have assistant principals on site.
"It's not a one-size fits all model," Wallack explained. "It's tailored to the needs of the school district."
4. Will my child's standalone pre-K be located inside a school?
Possibly, but not necessarily. Some will be located inside public schools. For example, Fearnley's pre-K center will be operated inside of P.S. 118. Other standalone centers are located in buildings the DOE is leasing, such as Woodside's former St. Teresa parochial school, officials said.
5. Where are the sites located?
There are 57 sites citywide, 55 of which still have space.
The overcrowded District 24, which includes, Corona, Elmhurst and Long Island City, is getting the most of these centers, with nine. That's followed by Southwest Brooklyn's District 20, including Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, which is getting seven. Six are in both District 30, which spans from Astoria to Jackson Heights and Long Island City and Woodside, and District 2, which stretches from Battery Park City to Greenwich Village and Chelsea and the Upper East Side. Five are in District 15, which runs from Boerum Hill to Carroll Gardens and Park Slope to Sunset Park.
CHECK OUT WHICH SITE IS CLOSEST TO YOU ON DNAINFO NEW YORK's MAP OF STANDALONE PRE-K CENTERS:
6. How does admission work?
Admissions to these centers are different from public school pre-K admissions, even when housed in their buildings. For instance, the pre-K program at P.S. 118, which has 66 seats, gives priority to families who live in its school zone. The new 72-seat pre-K center in its building, on the other hand, gives priority to all students living in the district, officials say.
7. If my pre-K offer is inside a public school, does that give me priority for kindergarten in that school?
No. Students will still have to go through the admissions process for kindergarten at their zoned school the following year, officials said.
8. If I live near the standalone pre-K, do I get priority for admission there?
Not necessarily, officials said.
"This is a way to essentially help meet demand in each district and provide an equal shot to families," Wallack explained, noting that the locations of these centers were selected based on "demand across each district and where we needed seats," as well as where the DOE had space, either in its own buildings or others it's renting out.
They might move in future years.
9. Will these standalone centers remain in the same building they are currently housed in?
No. If the existing public schools the pre-K centers are sharing space with continue to expand into more of their space — for instance, when P.S. 118 grows toward full capacity with its grades — the pre-K centers will move into new buildings, Wallack said.
"We'll be building and leasing out other pre-K spaces. It will be an orderly process over the next three to five years," he noted.
The city expects to add more seats, he noted, after gauging supply and demand from Round 2 (which includes other open seats besides these DOE-run centers).
10. When do I have to accept my offer by?
The deadline for the first round of pre-K applications ends Friday, June 26. The second round of pre-K applications kicked off this week and lasts through July 10.