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How does the School Zoning System work in New York City?

//What is the School Zoning System in New York City?

New York City is home to the largest public school system in the country. The NYC Department of Education is divided into 32 community school districts and they serve over 1 million students in over 1,500 schools.

Any child between the ages of 5 and 21 is entitled to free public education. A child can be assigned to a school within a zone that is based on the home address. The child does not need a green card or a Social Security number to register for school.

Due to growing neighborhoods and school popularity, it is not always possible for a student to attend the school he/she was originally zoned for. In this case, the child will be placed on a waiting list and the Department of Education’s Office of Student Enrollment will assign the child to another neighboring school.

//Elementary School (Age 5 to 9)

Elementary schools serve children in grades K-5. A child is admitted to kindergarten the year he or she turns five years old. This means that if your child turns 5 in late September, October, November or December, he or she may begin school in September of that year.

If your zoned neighborhood school is filled to capacity, the child will be assigned to a neighboring school with available space.

Some public schools have pre-kindergarten classes for children who are only four years old before December 31st. Programs are either 2½ hours or 6 hours 20 minutes a day.

Top 5 Elementary Schools in New York

  1. On the top of the list, New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST+m) is a public school that offers an academically challenging program, from grades KG-12, attracting bright students from all five boroughs. NEST+m is located in the school district # 1, Lower Manhattan.
  2. Number 2 is the Anderson School (PS 334), a K-8 gifted & talented public school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. School district zone is # 3.
  3. The 3rd best school on the list is the Lower Lab School (PS 77). This is a small gifted and talented (G&T) public school in the Upper East Side that offers demanding academics in a calmer setting. Offering classes from grades KG-5, this school is located on district # 2.
  4. Ranking number 4th is Kingsbury (PS 188). This public school is located in Queens and it focuses on providing standards-driven instruction in a nurturing environment, while developing social skills. Kingsbury has grades PK-5 and it is situated on district # 26.
  5. The 5th ranked school is the Special Music School - a unique public school in the district #3 for musically gifted children. The school offers grades KG-8 and runs as a public/private partnership between the New York City Department of Education and Kaufman Music Center, a not-for-profit, multi-arts organization.

Click to view all elementary schools by region

//Middle School (Ages 10 to 14)

Middle schools serve children in grades 6-8. Every fall, all fifth graders enrolled in a New York City public elementary school receive customized middle school applications. The application has all the middle schools where each student is eligible to apply. Students complete the application by ranking the schools in order of preference and return the application to their current school. Applications must be submitted in or before December and decision letters are available in the late spring.

Children living beyond walking distance from their school may qualify to receive free MetroCard for transportation.

Top 5 Middle Schools in New York

  1. On the top of the list, Mamie Fay is a public school that offers an academic program, from PK-8, linking Social Studies throughout its curriculum using literature based resources and technology. Mamie Fay is located in the school district # 30 in Astoria, Queens.
  2. Once again, our number 2 is the Anderson School (PS 334), a K-8 gifted & talented public school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. School district zone is # 3.
  3. The 3rd best school on the list is the Christa McAuliffe School (IS 187). This is a public school in Brooklyn that offers three academies: Scientific Research, the Humanities, and Business and Law - has its own floor, lunch period, and three bands (one for each grade within each academy). Offering classes from grades 6-8, this school is located on district # 20.
  4. Ranking number 4th is the New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST+m). This is a public school that offers an academically challenging program, from grades KG-12, attracting bright students from all five boroughs. NEST+m is located in the school district # 1, Lower Manhattan.
  5. The 5th ranked school is the Special Music School - a unique public school in the district # 3 for musically gifted children. The school offers grades KG-8 and runs as a public/private partnership between the New York City Department of Education and Kaufman Music Center, a not-for-profit, multi-arts organization.

//High Schools (Ages 15 to 18)

High schools serve children in grades 9-12. In New York City, students must apply to attend a public high school. Every fall, eighth graders must submit an application listing up to 12 programs in order of preference. Applicants are matched to one of their chosen schools according to admissions priority, location and availability of seats. Round 1 results are available in March.

Here is a timeline of the application process:

  • Summer: Get to know Schools in your zone district
  • December: Submit high school application to the 8th-grade guidance counselor
  • February–March: Admissions are announced
  • Late Spring: Choose to appeal if unsatisfied with placement

Here are some tips to get ready for the application process:

Top 5 High Schools in New York

  1. On the top of the list, Bryam Hills High School is a well-known four-year co-educational public secondary school located in Armonk, New York. Bryam Hills High School offers grades 9-12 and it is situated in the Bryam Hills Central School District.
  2. Number 2 is the Stuyvesant High School, commonly referred to as Stuy, is one of the nine Specialized High Schools in New York City, offering grades 9-12. Operated by the New York City Department of Education, these schools offer tuition-free accelerated academics to city residents. District school is # 2.
  3. The 3rd best school on the list is the Alfred-Almond Junior-Senior High School . is a public high school located in Almond, Allegany County. This is the only high school operated by the Alfred-Almond Central School District. This school offers grades 7-12.
  4. Ranking number 4th is the Bronx High School of Science. This school is a specialized New York City public high school often considered the premier science magnet school in the United States. Founded in 1938, it is located in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx on district # 10.
  5. The 5th ranked school is the Staten Island Technical High School, commonly called Staten Island Tech or SITHS, founded in 1988. Located in Staten Island, New York City, the school is operated by the New York City Department of Education on district # 31.

//Un-zoned and Specialized High Schools in New York

Un-zoned schools have their own criteria for admissions. This can be similar to Charter Schools, where children from all areas can apply. With un-zoned schools, preference is also given to those living in the neighborhood.

Other un-zoned schools are specialized in certain areas and require each student to take the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT). An example is the Special Music School, where children are tested in their musical abilities. Spots at these schools tend to be very competitive.

Over 30,000 students take the SHAT for less than 4,000 available seats. The exams are usually taken on a Saturday morning in the month of October.

Visit the SHSAT website to see the dates and additional information.

There are nine Specialized High Schools, eight of whose admissions are based on scores from the Specialized High School Admissions Test:

  1. The Bronx High School of Science – Often considered the premier science magnet school in the United States located in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx.
  2. The Brooklyn Latin School – Modeled after Boston Latin, the oldest public high school in the country located in Brooklyn.
  3. Brooklyn Technical High School – Specializes in engineering, math and science.
  4. NEST+m – New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math is a New York City public school that serves grades kindergarten through 12 located in Lower Manhattan.
  5. High School of American Studies at Lehman College – Specializes in social studies, history and English, located in the Bronx.
  6. LaGuardia Arts – Admission is based on an audition as well as the student’s academic record. School specializes in teaching visual arts and performing arts, located near Lincoln Center
  7. Queens High School for the Sciences at York College – Well-known small school that specializes in mathematics and science, located in Jamaica, NY.
  8. Staten Island Technical High School – Specializes in mathematics, science, computers, engineering, humanities and athletics.
  9. Stuyvesant High School - Offer tuition-free accelerated academics to city residents, located in Tribeca.

//How to Enroll

Children ages 5-10 may register directly at their neighborhood school, while older children (11 and older) must go to an Enrollment Office. Counselors at Enrollment Offices can help you find your school options and apply to schools. Offices are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Applications for most schools are due in March, but it is best to apply early if seeking a seat in a popular school.

To find the school district you are in, click on the search tool or call 311 (outside New York City call 212-NEW-YORK).

To register a child for school, you will need the child’s immunization records, birth certificate or passport and any transcripts from other schools attended. Children with Individualized Education Plans (I.E.P) must also present the documentation.

In addition, the City will require two documents proving that the child lives in New York City. A child's legal residence is the home of his parents or legal guardian. Proof of residency can include a utility bill and any other official document with the home address.

For nonresidents, a tuition fee may be required to attend a New York City Public School. However, nonresidents may not enroll in specialized high schools or talented programs.

More information can be found on the Department of Education’s Website.

//English as a Second Language

Children with limited to no understanding of English can participate in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs within the schools. In this case, teachers will give the student a test to measure the level of English. Parents who do not speak English are also entitled to translations of important documents and interpreters during meetings with school staff.

Children required to be in the ESL program will attend a few regular classes with English-speaking students and also work with an ESL teacher.

It is common for a school in the City to have children who are learning English. There are also a number of schools designed for English Language Learner students (ELLs).

Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn currently have the largest population of ELLs. Manhattan’s ELL population is markedly smaller, while Staten Island is the borough with the smallest number of ELLs. Even though they are comparatively smaller, Manhattan’s and Staten Island’s ELL populations are still sizeable.

For more detailed information on English Language Learners in schools, read the 2013 Demographic Report.