Village tots in tough spot; Kindergarten seats scarce

By Albert Amateau

Despite assurances by the Department of Education, many Village parents feared this week that they would not have an acceptable option to get their 5-year-olds into kindergarten in neighborhood public schools in September.

The fact that there are more applicants than there are kindergarten seats in P.S. 41 on W. 11th St. and P.S. 3 on Hudson St., predicted for more than a year, became official on April 13. On that day, the department sent letters to parents of 87 children in the Village school zone, informing them that their children were on a wait list for the two schools.

“The Department of Education will be working between now and the end of the school year to identify schools with a capacity to accommodate kindergarten applicants who do not have alternative placement,” the letter said.

Beth Levinson, a Village resident, said last week, “It’s very bad news for our community. D.O.E. wasn’t even able to tell parents where their kids could go or where they stand on the waiting list. I’m in that population, and not too happy about it.”

Sacha Penn, a single mother of a 4-year-old girl who learned she was on the wait list, said on Tues., April 21, that she learned that all the parents who registered P.S. 3 as the preferred choice had been offered seats for their kindergarten students. Consequently, all the wait-listed parents were those whose preferred choice was P.S. 41.

An e-mail request on Tuesday from The Villager to Jimmy Bueschen, D.O.E. choice coordinator for the region, for confirmation of the wait-list information was not answered by press time.

Bueschen, however, had suggested in an earlier e-mail to Penn that parents would receive a letter this week telling them their number on the wait list. But by press time Tuesday evening, it appeared that no one had received the letter yet.

Parents on the wait list were skeptical about the promise that they would be told after June 15 — the deadline for Gifted and Talented programs to offer kindergarten seats — which schools in the neighborhood would have room for their children.

Many parents appeared unwilling to extend the definition of “neighborhood” very far when concerning 4- and 5-year-olds.

“I don’t want to take my twins on a bus or subway to kindergarten,” said Denise Bigo-Early. “Bussing 5-year olds makes no sense. Their energy level is not very long, and I don’t want them to spend it to and from school.”

Penn said she did not apply to any Gifted and Talented program — the nearest one being two zones away from her West Village home — because she wanted her daughter to go to kindergarten with children that she has known since she was 2 years old from the local playground.

“I was born in Westbeth and went to P.S. 3,” Penn said. “I really didn’t care which school my daughter went to, but I put P.S. 41 as the first choice.”

Penn said the uncertainty was driving her frantic, so on Tuesday she called several schools outside of the Village to find which had kindergarten seats.

“P.S.130 in Chinatown [143 Baxter St.] is wait-listed,” she said. “P.S. 290 on the Upper East Side [E. 82nd St.] is wait-listed, and so is P.S. 11 [W. 21st St.], and I don’t even want to go there,” Penn said, adding, “P.S. 150, a wonderful school [in Tribeca], is wait-listed too,”

A D.O.E. spokesperson said on Monday that it was still too early to say that the Village-zoned kindergartens would not be able to accept all applicants. He suggested that parents could still be considering private schools and that some would choose Gifted and Talented programs.

Nicky Perry, a Village resident for 20 years and owner of Tea and Sympathy on Greenwich Ave., said she doubted that the private school option would attract many parents in Village schools.

“I just assumed that my 5-year-old daughter would get into P.S. 41,” she said.

Anne Kjellberg, a P.S. 41 parent and leader in the Public School Parents Advocacy Committee, said on Tuesday that Gifted and Talented programs are not likely to relieve the P.S. 41 wait list.

“Historically, P.S. 41 has lost no more than 10 percent of its students to Gifted and Talented programs,” she said. “And while there was a trend away from public schools to private schools, the trend has been reversing and it seems to be about equal — and maybe more toward public schools in the economic recession.”

Kjellberg also pointed out that one school nearby that does have room is P.S. 33 on Ninth Ave. and 26th St.

“P.S. 33 has been working hard to improve itself, but it has within recent memory been on the state’s failing list and its student population is 96 percent nonwhite,” she noted.

“Officials outside D.O.E. think it’s very unlikely that Village kids would be sent there, which makes it more likely that they would be forced into P.S. 11,” she continued.

Expressing hope that the impasse will be resolved, Kjellberg said, “It’s possible that D.O.E. is seriously looking at real estate for the Greenwich Village Middle School [located in the P.S. 3 building] or some other more creative option for an off-site kindergarten.”