By Daniel Squadron, Brian Kavanagh and Lisa Donlan
Unlike families in any other community school district in the city, families in District 1, which covers the Lower East Side and Chinatown, aren’t tied to catchment zones that dictate where their children go to school. Instead, parents have the opportunity to send their children to any school in the district, with seats assigned by lottery. This approach has always been about promoting equity, diversity and parental choice in our schools. We should be able to achieve these important goals without placing an unreasonable burden on parents and students.
One policy, however, has imposed such a burden. For the last few years, parents of young children in the district have been forced to go through the process of applying for admission to pre-kindergarten, selecting a school and enrolling their child, and then repeating the process all over again the very next year — even if they want their child to continue on to kindergarten in the same school. This policy has imposed unnecessary inconvenience and uncertainty on busy parents, discontinuity in the education of children in the important early years, and challenges to schools trying to get students off to a strong start and create a distinctive school culture.
Parents have raised concerns about the double application process for years. That’s why this spring and summer, we, together with parents, other elected officials — including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilmember Rosie Mendez — and the Department of Education, began working toward a solution that allows students admitted to pre-K to remain in their schools for kindergarten and also promotes diversity in District 1 classrooms.
We are very pleased that at last week’s special Community Education Council meeting, D.O.E. presented a cooperative response. The department is prepared to implement a new admissions policy for District 1 that will guarantee that pre-K students who wish to remain in their school for kindergarten can do so. The tone of the C.E.C. meeting at which D.O.E. presented the proposed new policy was thoroughly and refreshingly collaborative. A team from the Office of Student Enrollment, led by Elizabeth Sciabarra, presented the policy to attendees and opened the floor to the comments, questions and concerns of parents, emphasizing D.O.E.’s openness to suggestions and willingness to work with the district to be certain that the new policy is both fair and comprehensive.
In order to maintain the diversity we strive for in District 1 schools, it is vital that all parents fully understand the implications of the new policy. With this in mind, both D.O.E. and our own offices are committed to doing comprehensive outreach in every neighborhood in District 1. In addition to holding open houses and an enrollment fair, posting information on the Web, hanging posters throughout the community and sending informative mailings, D.O.E. will answer parents’ questions directly and will make all written materials about the new policy available in multiple languages spoken in District 1.
We are thrilled about this victory and thankful that this collaboration between parents, the C.E.C., elected officials and D.O.E. was a success. The new policy reflects true choice for children and parents in District 1 and will allow families to focus on getting their children off to a strong start in school, rather than a two-year cycle of school visits, admissions forms and wait lists. We hope this process can be a model for how stakeholders can work collaboratively on the many challenges facing our schools.
Squadron is state senator, 25th District; Kavanagh is assemblymember, 74th District; Donlan is president, C.E.C. 1