The good news is: there are some great choices out there for kids.
The bad news is: the process is time-consuming, anxiety-ridden and unclear.
My family and I have just begun the process of applying to a public middle school for my fifth grade son. This year, 2006, everything is in flux. Our test scores for the 4th grade test did not arrive until mid-October; the application and selection process is new this year, and is expected to be modified again next year. That said, the overall process for applying to public middle schools within your District currently is as follows:
- Sometime around the end of October or beginning of November, every child in a public elementary school should receive a booklet with one page descriptions of every middle school in their District. These descriptions are basic, are developed by the school, and include a few statistics, including how many kids generally apply, how many open spaces there are, what percentage of the children attending the school chose it as their first choice. There is also a selection/ranking sheet in the booklet.
- Sometime in December, parents return the ranking sheet to a designated person at their middle school (we have a middle school counselor/advisor at PS 261). This list must include 5 or 6 school choices (the number varies by district) ranked in the order of preference. You MUST fill out all the choices, and you WILL be assigned to one of these schools. The middle school coordinator at your school returns these sheets to the District office along with supporting materials for each child (report cards, test scores, etc.) In 2006, these applications are due to the district on December 15th, so our ranking sheets are due to our school on December 5th.
- Once the schools receive the names of the students who chose them, they will conduct interviews or meetings with your child. The interview usually includes some sort of testing or audition, or a written essay. It depends on the school: some of these assessments are very informal, but some are quite formal. Some schools require certain test scores for entrance, and children will be weeded out accordingly. Some schools ONLY interview students who chose them as #1, some interview students who selected the school as #2 and #3, but not many. These interviews usually take place in January.
- Finally – and this is new and just being finalized – the schools rank the children they would like to accept, and the District office uses these rankings and your choices to “match” each child to a school. The criteria for this process is unclear at the moment, but the process is designed to reduce favoritism in acceptances.
Although you will probably begin looking within your District, there are a number of schools that accept out-of-District children, others that are Regional (accepting from Districts all over the Region), and still other schools that will take children from any Region. If you live in Long Island, there is a middle school in Fort Greene that you can go to. If you live in the Slope, you might find it worthwhile to look in Manhattan (and there are a number of schools in Districts 1 and 2, lower Manhattan, which are very popular among my parent friends). There are also Gifted and Talented, and Selective schools that accept qualified children from all over the city.
Each of these unzoned schools will require a separate application that is not connected to, and does not influence, the in-District selection process in any way. They may also have very different deadlines for applications, and also preapplications, so contact each school directly. Also, if you are looking at out-of-District schools do ask whether they accept a reasonable number of students that are not zoned for the school so you don’t waste your time (a friend of mine found out on the tour of one school that they had only accepted one out-of-zone student in 3 years!)
Do your homework:
There are many resources for you to find out more about each of the schools you are interested in, and to visit them. Our school, PS 261, organized orientations to explain the process and brought in speakers from certain schools, and also some parents from those schools. The District 15 Community Education Council also hosted a Middle School Principal’s Forum, which was open to the public. There are other events like this scheduled each year.
If there is one thing I was told, and I have quickly learned, it is this: Go on the tours, go to the open houses, see the schools, bring your child. It’s incredibly time consuming, and what’s more, you should start right away: we delayed for two weeks and found ourselves #300 on the list for a tour at one school!
On the tours, you see the culture of the school, how the children are behaving, what kind of work is considered good (from the graded work on bulletin boards in the halls), whether the children are wearing uniforms and what diversity, in each case, really looks like. You hear what the school considers most important (in one case, our tour guide made a point of their incentive program, which included giving ipods to kids who did well); you see what the facilities are and get a glimpse of the teachers. I found that my impression of the school, in every case, was not exactly what I thought it would be from the research I did in advance.
And you get to ask questions and hear other parents asking questions. All in all, I highly recommend taking the time for the tours.
There’s a lot to look at. There are Gifted and Talents programs, Art schools (with auditions for 6th graders!), schools with inclusion programs. Many of the schools we looked at had some kind of focus: Math and Science, Arts and Letters, New Voices (a strong dance program). Afterschool programs also vary widely: some schools had Kaplan and The Princeton Review onsite for tutoring, some went the sports team route. There are also a number of schools with “off-site” programs, in which the kids are bussed weekly to work with professional organizations (such as the Brooklyn Botanical Garden) to enrich their classroom learning. There are also a growing number of smaller schools that go from 6th grade to 12th grade.
www.insideschools.org is incredibly helpful in ranking the schools and giving the inside scoop (parents can post their own reviews on the site, etc.) It lists open house dates, and lets you search for schools according to different criteria.
http://schools.nyc.gov is the official school website with basic information on the schools and also testing results for each school, school report cards, even menus.
There are also books (including New York City's Best Public Middle Schools which is updated every two years). The best resources are your friends, who say things like “The work in the halls was terrible” or “The principle is a pedophile” or “The kids are doing a lot of drugs” or “I won’t send my son there because my daughter was one of only two African-American students.” These are the kinds of insights that generally don’t make it into books.
Middle School Directories
2011-2012 Middle School Choice Directories are available on the Publications page.
Middle School Open House Events
Most middle schools host school-based open houses, school tours and information sessions throughout the fall and winter.
Below is a list of School-based Open Houses by borough:
If you have any questions about school-based events, or do not see all of the schools you are looking for, please contact the schools directly.
About Middle School Admissions
- Visit the glossary to learn more about the difference between Zoned and Choice Middle School programs.
- Check out the Calendar and Events page to plan ahead for the upcoming enrollment period.
- Find all middle school English and translated publications here.
- Stay informed!Subscribe to the middle school mailing list to receive updates about upcoming deadlines and events.
If you have questions about middle school enrollment, please call (718) 935-2398.