Although we're considering a return to the Midwest, I'm definitely not a fan of suburban living. All those cookie cutter homes and cookie cutter kids, oversized SUV's and unused backyards; it makes me woozy. As much as I bitch and moan about living in Gotham, it actually has a lot to recommend it, kid-wise. Unbeatable museums, a park the size of a small state, non-cringe-inducing children's theater; the list goes on. But there is one thing that the suburbs have that kick NYC's overpriced ass: Decent public schools.
The other day a neighbor and I were chatting about baby-rearing ("It's awful, isn't it?") when she asked me if I knew about the pre-school on the second floor. To clarify: I live in a 46-story building in the heart of Hell's Kitchen. It's government subsidized housing for artists - which is the only way we could afford to live in Manhattan - and getting is quite the coup. It has a five star gym, a parking garage, medical facilities for the elderly, the aforementioned pre-school, and a kick ass bakery right downstairs. I was on the waiting list for almost seven years. The pre-school isn't technically for residents - it's fully accredited and open to everyone - but I always assumed that Will would end up there. And that it would be, you know, free.
We all know where this is going, right?
See here's the thing - in this city, decent public schools are in short supply. Take, for instance, the school in my 'hood. Note the constant police presence and large, looming metal detectors. Note the talk about "baby daddies" and nonstop barrage of profanity. Note the fact that this is where my sweet baby boy might end up unless A) we hit it big and pay for private school, or B) he gets his daddy's brains and finagles himself into a gifted and talented program so we can transfer out of our district. Here's the thing: In order to get into a decent high school you have to get into a decent middle school, and in order to get into a decent middle school you have to get into a decent grade school, and in order to get into a decent grade school you have to go to the "right" pre-school, which is why we just submitted paperwork on our 2 1/2 month old so that he can attend - wrap your heads around this, kids - pre-pre-school. What's even crazier? It doesn't start until August of 2009, and Will got the last slot.
Think I'm exaggerating the nuts? This, from last week's New York Magazine:
It’s time for the city’s baby boomlet to go to kindergarten, and there’s not enough room.
It’s kindergarten-acceptance time, and the city’s ever-growing post-toddler population—the number of New Yorkers under 5 has increased more than 25 percent since 2000—promises massive, historic overcrowding in the city’s public schools. But parents who don’t like the sound of that, and would do anything to finagle their kids into the privileged “gifted” schools, are even more frantic than usual. The Department of Education has instituted new rules for gifted programs. In this year’s new, uniform process, only the super-testers—those kids who place in the 95th percentile or above—make the cut. (There was more flexibility in the past, and children who scored above the 90th percentile could pretty much count on a spot.) The new process also sends notifications in late March, well after private schools—where space is even tighter—require deposits from accepted kids’ parents.
“We got tons of calls from people whose kids didn’t get in anywhere,” says Amanda Uhry of Manhattan Private School Advisors, who ushers clients through the onerous admissions process at the so-called independent schools, which mailed kindergarten acceptances last month. “Parents were devastated.” Even top preschools that in previous years had no trouble getting their kids into kindergartens have seen some get shut out, she says, thanks to a larger-than-usual candidate pool. Little Red School House saw a 20 percent rise in applications from last year; Trevor Day School 15 percent; Hunter College Elementary School 24 percent; Marymount School 20 percent; and Brooklyn Friends a whopping 74 percent. Deborah Ashe, Trevor Day’s admissions director, has fielded lots of calls from preschool directors asking about children who’ve been wait-listed and even talking up kids who are now making the rounds once more after getting in nowhere. “It’s been an much more competitive year,” she says.
Patrick Sullivan, a member of the mayor’s Panel for Educational Policy who voted against the G&T changes, says the new requirements have caused “a lot of stress.” Parents won’t find out if their children are G&T bound for several weeks. “I’m in limbo,” says Laurie Frey, an Upper West Side parent whose three elder kids are in the gifted program but is waiting for word on her youngest. “In the past, it wasn’t so burdensome. But now the wait just goes on and on.”