Well, folks, B has a preschool. The angst is over – and boy did we get sucked into the angst this past week.
Most schools in NY are part of the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater NY (ISAAGNY), an organization whose mission is to ensure everyone is following the same set of admissions guidelines and time frames. For preschools, this means that school directors are required to notify parents of their children’s admissions status on February 28. They do it by email or snail mail (or both). Parents, in turn, have one week (until March 8) to make their decisions.
What makes the 1-week decision period tough for some parents is the guesswork you have to do if you’re waitlisted (shorthand: WL) at one of your top choices. Say a parent applies to 5 schools and their child gets into choice #3, but is WL at choice #1 and #2? Does the parent play it safe and say yes to school 3, forgoing the possibility they’ll move up the WL and secure a spot at choice #1 or #2? OR does the parent bide their time, hoping their #1 school is another family’s #2 school, and that this other family will release their accepted child’s spot, making room for families on the WL?
It’s a high-pressurized waiting game. Some people call the schools they’re WL on to see how close they are to the top of the list, or how much movement they can expect over the decision-week. It’s a chess game that every preschool parent in NYC is going through over the same exact week. You’re waiting for other families to make their decisions in the hopes it opens up a spot at the school you really want to go to, but are WL on.
Now, some schools reject kids outright, but not any of the schools we applied to. In the spirit of community, or fairness, or simply not being jerks to 2 and 3-year-olds, many schools just waitlist every kid they don’t accept. How many waitlists you’re put on, how long each waitlist is, and what position you’re in on each waitlist is all part of the angst eating away at parents of preschoolers in NYC from February 28 – March 8 (parents of kindergarteners have their own angst – but thankfully we have two years before we experience that).
A couple of qualifiers:
1. We didn’t have to send B to preschool next year. We could have opted out of the angst and keep him home with the nanny or put him in day care until he was 4. Heck, we could’ve opted out of preschool altogether and just waited for kindergarten. But after some thought, A and I decided that we wanted B to start school in September. I say school loosely. None of the places we considered are curriculum-based. They’re play-based. So B won’t be sitting at a desk learning to write. No, he’ll more likely be sticking his hands in clay or collecting different shaped leaves, or leaning how to measure flour.
1a. Not that we don’t love our nanny. We’ve really come to realize how lucky we got with her. She’s so engaged and playful. I can’t think of two better qualities for a nanny to a toddler. She and B play cars and puzzles and read books all day long. She takes him to story time at the library and a free weekly art class and to play dates with other kids in our apartment building. It will be hard saying good-bye in September, but we feel that a slightly more structured day with activities and music and other kids learning the same things will be good for him.
2. We are sane people determined not to be crazytown about preschool. We didn’t even know what the word exmissions meant two months ago let alone what ISAAGNY stood for. We don’t need B to go to a “TT” (top-tier) school. We need B to go to a nice school with educated teachers, a diverse student body, and a relatively easy commute. We live sort of close to a university, so these kinds of preschools aren’t terribly hard to find.
So what made our week so angst-y?
1. Number of schools. Last week I started trolling this website where NYC moms post everything about schools: where they applied, how and when they were notified, and whether they got in (I know it’s the kids who are the ones getting in, not the moms, but the parents are the ones applying, so I forgive the use of first person). This website is evil for reasons I won’t go into (are women more openly hostile, competitive and snarky in NYC than anywhere else? I’d put money on it), but it had me second guessing the number of schools we applied to. We applied to 3. On this website, I read people applied to 5, 10, FIFTEEN preschools. Now, I’m not crazytown, but 3 suddenly seemed like a stupidly small number. What if we got in nowhere?
2. Number of spaces. We found out quite late in the admissions process that my #1 choice school had virtually no spots in their 3’s class (where B will be). This was disappointing to learn, not only because it was my #1 choice, but because it only left us with 2 others. Our #3 choice had a few more spots, but also had an unexpectedly high number of applicants, so our chances weren’t hot there, either. My #2 choice (which was actually A’s #1 choice) seemed to have the most reasonable number of spots, but it is also the most reputable of our 3 schools, so that didn’t bode well for our chances.
The angst was not mine alone. Somehow preschool came super-important to both of us last week. A woke up a few times saying, ‘hey B! Where are you going to school next fall?’ At a neighbor’s party, I caught him talking to some other parents about it. In fact, it was A who reminded me that we were going to find out last week. I had actually forgotten what the notification date was.
I don’t need to tell you I was glued to my email on Thursday (notification day) and Friday. As it turned out, we were notified by snail mail by all three schools, and all three letters arrived on Friday. Here were the results:
My choice #1 / A’s #2: Waitlist. No surprise, they had practically zero room. Their letter said as much. Their letter ALSO misspelled A’s name – it was typed incorrectly, and then CORRECTED WITH A PEN. They didn’t even have the decency to re-print the letter after they discovered his name was spelled wrong. I was so insulted – obviously A was too – that they immediately dropped to my #3 position. So glad we didn’t get in; those people may have a great music program, but they’re classless morons.
My choice #2 / A’s #1: Got in!!
Our choice #3: Waitlist. This school started as our backup plan – though the more time we spent there (3 visits throughout the admissions process), the more we were charmed by it. It would’ve required a subway ride there and back every day which would’ve been a huge pain, but the director was super committed and the other parents we met were not crazytown and several of them worked in media (like me).
So, the school which has now become both A’s and my #1 choice (due to the stupid pen-correcting-A’s-name), is where B will be going in September. We do not have an anxiety-ridden week of waiting ahead of us. We’re done. We’re happy.
What can I tell you about this preschool? It’s lovely. It’s in a historic church (though it’s a secular school). It has an art studio, a gym, a library, and 2 playgrounds. The lead teachers all have masters degrees in education. It’s diverse. It’s international. Children of faculty of the university attend, as do neighborhood kids, as do those slightly further afield like us who are willing to walk 10 blocks for a good school.