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City Adds 54 Pre-K Seats to Upper East Side After Slashing 80

By Shaye Weaver | January 30, 2017 5:19pm
 The Lillie Devereaux Blake School on East 81st Street has three pre-K sections this year.
The Lillie Devereaux Blake School on East 81st Street has three pre-K sections this year.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

UPPER EAST SIDE — Dozens of pre-kindergarten seats have been added to the neighborhood in time for next month's admissions deadline, despite 80 spots being removed this month and the new seats only being guaranteed for one to three years, officials said. 

As the first round of pre-K applications commences, with a Feb. 24 deadline, the city has added 54 pre-K spots to the Upper East Side, as well as 36 to Midtown East — all of which will be open for the 2017-18 school year, school officials said.

That will bring the total number of pre-K seats on the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island to 526, not including Midtown East, after 80 temporary seats were taken off the table this month.

By comparison, in June of last year there were 470 open pre-K seats during the 2016-17 school year, DOE spokesman Will Mantell said.

Of the new seats, 18 spots were added to each of the following locations: P.S. 6 (Lillie D. Blake) at 45 E. 81st St., the Yorkville Community School at 421 E. 88th St., and P.S. 290 (The Manhattan New School) at 311 E. 82nd St. 

The department has also added 18 seats to two schools in Midtown East: at P.S. 59 (Beekman Hill International) at 233 E. 56th St., and at the Vanderbilt YMCA at 224 E. 47th St.

The additions will mark the first time P.S. 290, P.S. 59 and the Vanderbilt YMCA are offering pre-K sections. P.S. 6 currently has three sections (58 seats), and the Yorkville Community School has one section with 20 seats this year that will grow into two sections with 38 seats next year.

The Vanderbilt YMCA has a three-year contract with the city, meaning the seats will only be guaranteed for that term. Other sections are being contracted on a year-to-year basis, according to the DOE.

The department said it will continue to work with school superintendents to identify additional seats for Round 2 of pre-K applications, which starts on April 20. And the agency will look at possibly increasing the section size of one or more of the new sites from 18 to 20 students, officials said.

But residents are still frustrated about the 80 total seats removed from Robert F. Wagner/JHS 167 on 220 E. 76th St. (three sections with 60 seats) and P.S. 267/East Side Elementary School at 213 E. 63rd St. (one section with 20 seats).

Debbie Semaya, a mother of a 3-year-old, has applied to nearly a dozen schools and said it doesn't matter if new sections were added elsewhere as long as programs are being removed

"They took away the P.S. 267 class, and a ton of kids who were ready for pre-K lost guaranteed seats," she said.

Those seats were temporary additions to address the need in the area, a situation that was communicated to parents last fall, Mantell said. P.S. 267 is no longer accommodating a pre-K section because it has been increasingly using building space to serve a growing kindergarten-through-fifth-grade student body.

 READ: 11 Tips for Applying to the City's Free Pre-K Programs

READ: Free Pre-K Shortage on UES Prompts City to Search for Providers: Officials

Parents also pointed out that the new seats still do not guarantee their children will get into their favored schools, because some schools give priority to families who live within their school zone.

"I'm glad the DOE found the YMCA and popped more seats in elementary schools, but it doesn’t do much for the people who don’t have a sibling and who aren’t zoned for those schools," said Jaclyn Meltzer, a teacher and Upper East Side resident with two daughters.

"We don’t have pre-K centers here," added Meltzer, who lives in the 60s near Second Avenue. "We're still at a loss. Don't promise pre-K for all and not be for all."

The DOE has maintained that it will continue to work to open more seats in the neighborhood.

"We’re pleased to increase the number of pre-K sections and seats on the Upper East Side," Mantell added.

"Through Pre-K for All, we’ve more than quadrupled the number of free, full-day, high-quality pre-K seats in this area since 2013-14, and there is a free, full-day, high-quality pre-K seat for every four-year-old in New York City, and our pre-K enrollment specialists will work with families to find the right pre-K seat for their child this fall.”

There were 118 pre-K seats on the Upper East Side during the 2013-14 school year, according to Mantell.

Families can still apply for pre-K seats online, by phone or at one of the DOE's Family Welcome Centers through Feb. 24.