Of four children in a playgroup in the zone for PS 261 in Boerum Hill, only Luna Pelapeña got a spot in a prekindergarten class.
“I felt really lucky,” said her mother, Vickie Pelapeña.
Admissions for New York City public pre-k programs opened on Monday, and finding a spot is going to be a challenge for anxious parents from the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill, in Brooklyn’s School District 15, where the number of children is on the rise.
The community district encompassing Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill has seen the largest increase in the number of children under age 5 in all of Brooklyn – nearly 19 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to census data. By comparison, the number of children under 5 decreased by 4.3 percent citywide.
In 2012, more than 7,267 families applied for public school pre-k seats in District 15, according to the Department of Education, but only 995 seats were available – an acceptance rate of less than 14 percent.
“This community, 10 years ago, had a lot of singles,” Zipporiah Mills, the principal at P.S. 261 said. “But a lot of families with young children are moving in.”
The shortage of pre-k seats comes as President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wanted to provide preschool access to all four-year-olds in the United States.
The Department of Education said that public schools only represented 40 percent of the overall availability of free pre-k seats, and that parents could always turn to community based organizations sponsored by the city. According to the department, the city opened 4,000 additional pre-k seats throughout the five boroughs to meet the demand for September.
The city is trying to address school overcrowding in these Brooklyn neighborhoods and elsewhere by building new schools and adding seats. But for fall 2013, demand for pre-k seats will definitely exceed supply.
Admissions are not first come, first served. Children with a sibling in their zoned school have first priority. Other zoned students come next, followed by those with a sibling in the school but outside the zone. Parents have until April 5 to list up to 12 pre-k schools on their application form by order of preferences. They can register online.
But even having a sibling in a zoned school is no guarantee. At PS 154 in Windsor Terrace, there is only room for 18 students, but more than 34 siblings within the zone have already applied, according to Debby Wattenbarger, the parent coordinator.
“It is very difficult to find a spot in a public school,” she said.
Jennifer Holmes, 34, said she moved with her family two years ago to Boerum Hill because she heard she could find better schools for her 4-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Her daughter was accepted at PS 261.
Holmes says she is relieved because, now that the eldest of her kids got accepted in a pre-k, she thinks her 2-year-old son won’t have any problem entering the school.
“We felt very lucky,” she said. “A lot of families had to go back to Manhattan to get a spot.”
Tips for parents trying to score a pre-k spot:
Parents from District 15 in Brooklyn should consider including in their list of preferences, programs on the Lower East Side, says Clara Hemphill, the editor of insidesschools.org said.
“Traditionally, the Lower East Side has a lot of space in their pre-k programs,” Hemphill said, adding that the neighborhood was only a few stops away on the F train.
Popular schools are more likely to be filled first with siblings and zoned families, says Joyce Szuflita, a Brooklyn school consultant and editor of nycschoolhelp.com.
Parents should consider schools that fly under the radar, she says. “You should try to apply to schools in your neighborhood that maybe does not have a great reputation at the upper grades,” she said. “Sometimes, those schools have amazing pre-k.”
According to the school consultant, there is no public review of pre-k, and very often parents associate what they hear about the elementary school to the pre-k program.
“But parents may find that that may like it more than they thought,” she said, adding the best way to know if the rumors are true is to visit the pre-k programs before applying.
Find a pre-k school in your neighborhood