NYC students applying to middle and high schools received a 32-digit lottery number. Photo: John Schnobrich / Unsplash

By S. Mitra Kalita

Because you love the word “hexadecimal,” we’re back with more school-related news. We would usually leave the heavy lifting to our sister newsletter, The Unmuted, but it’s off for mid-winter recess. The New York City Department of Education, on the other hand, is not and has been busy on the admissions front. 

Earlier this week, families applying to middle school and high school could access their child’s lottery number (yes, that’s a 32-digit hexadecimal) and we broke down what it all means here. But many of you still have questions so we posed them to the experts. We talked to Greg of Greg’s Tutoring and Alina Adams, author of “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten” and “Getting Into NYC High-School,” to get their advice.

Photo courtesy of Alina Adams

Epicenter: Middle school rankings are due March 1, while high school was extended to March 11. Do you have to get into at least one of the schools on your list? 

Alina Adams: NO NO NO NO. They are not obligated to give you one of the 12 schools. They can absolutely, positively put you in a school you did not rank. Queens does have the largest number of zoned high schools. But on the other hand, if your zoned school is extremely popular, there’s a chance that if you don’t rank it, you might not get in. I am urging people to at least put your zoned school as number 12. 

Epicenter: So this year’s different because parents know their kid’s lottery numbers. How should they use this information before ranking? 

AA: Even with the numbers, this is the advice I’m giving: You should not let the number influence your choices too much. There’s too many other factors at play: 

  • How other people rank the school
  • The borough you are in
  • Whether you are zoned for it
  • Diversity
  • The percentage of seats given to students receiving free or reduced lunch

Three to four of your choices can be reach schools, dream schools. I am often asked: Should I rank a school that I have very little chance? Well, if you don’t rank it, you have no chance. 

Don’t start playing games like, ‘This is really my third choice school but because it has 600 seats and my first choice only has 75 seats, shouldn’t I put my third choice first?’

You will be given your first available choice. You will get a seat there if your number comes. And you will never even be considered if you do not rank. So rank in the order you truly prefer. 

I suggest: 

  • Three to four absolutely pie in the sky
  • Three to four safety (defined as 15 or fewer kids applying for that seats, or if you have any priority such as an IEP or qualified by reduced lunch)
  • In the middle if your child is a strong writer and has something unique, then go for schools that are not just looking at grades. Examples like Beacon or ICE. If that’s not your child’s strength, go for schools set for the tier. (Group 1, for example, is comprised of students whose grades average 85 and up.) 
  • Three to five bottom schools that are genuinely your last choice. 
Declining school enrollments might offer students slightly better odds of getting into their preferred schools. Photo: Pixabay via Pexels, with the photo covered by the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license

EpicenterSchool enrollments are declining at many schools. How will this affect admissions? 

Greg: First of all, with a smaller pool — let’s say it’s 10% fewer students right now — then yes, the chances get higher. Additionally the argument can be made that it’s the wealthier families who are the ones moving out of the city (at least temporarily) and/or going to Catholic or private schools that others can’t afford. On the flip side, even though this opens the pool up to those not able to do that, it also means more fierce competition about cohorts in your same group.

EpicenterIf you have a number that looks like it’s going to be hard to get into coveted schools, should you look at alternatives to public school? Is it too late for that? 

AA: Charter schools close their lotteries on April 1 so I encourage everyone to look at that. Catholics and some of the smaller privates might have deadlines you can still make. You want to keep options open. There’s so many factors in play here, there’s no guarantee. 

Greg: I don’t prefer the use of the term coveted but I understand your point. Yes, definitely consider Catholic and private school. But as mentioned above, many families cannot afford that, even for many so-called middle-class families that could be beyond reach. From there, consider audition schools and also the so-called “essay school” that are available. And never rule out charter schools — they are also public schools just not under the direct auspices of the NYC DOE.

Also, know your priorities. For instance, Students with Disability (SWD) and Free Lunch (FRL) students with Diversity in Admissions (DIA) initiates have specific numbers of seats allocated and first opportunities to seats in some cases. And it may be too late for this year’s admissions, but taking the SHSAT for entry into one of the Specialized High Schools (SHS) is always an option to consider. The saying don’t put all your eggs in one basket is appropriate here, and the key is getting a mix going.

EpicenterHow do I know if my zoned school is good? 

Greg: Many are not. Do your research. Check its vitals; for a high school, things such as graduation rates, college readiness, what scores students are getting on their standardized tests, etc.

But remember a “good school” does not automatically make you a “good student.”  There is often too much focus on schools as if they are magic. The required courses are still the required courses, and a student is not just a passive recipient of knowledge but should be a hard worker, malleable, critical thinker and problem solver.

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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