Public Schools

New York City Kindergarten and Public Elementary Schools

Beginning in Kindergarten, all children are eligible for a spot in a public school. However, exploring and applying for multiple possible choices will maximize quality placement options. These choices include the:

  • Neighborhood general education catchment school, known as the zoned school.
  • Unzoned, districtwide, or charter schools with separate admissions procedures, such as a lottery drawing.
  • Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs within schools or those that occupy whole schools where admission is based on testing and score rankings.
  • Schools with specialized offerings such as language or music with admission requirements based on interest, aptitude, or skill.

Catchment Schools and Unzoned, districtwide, magnet, or charter schools 

A catchment zone refers to the area within your district where your automatically assigned local elementary school is located. The general rule is that by virtue of living within the catchment zone, you have the right to enroll your child in the assigned school. Though admission into the general education program of the catchment area school is highly likely, it is not guaranteed, and it is still necessary to fill out an application for your child at the zoned school.  To determine your zoned school, enter your address in the school search tool.  

Columbia's Morningside campus housing is located within Districts 3 and 5 with 116th Street as the dividing line; most residents are assigned to catchment schools PS 165 in District 3, and PS 36 and 125 in District 5.  Other general education options in District 3 include Kindergarten-only lottery admissions for out-of-catchment spots in zoned district schools, as well as a separate school-based K-5 lottery for the Manhattan School for Children (PS 333). Residents of Districts 3 and 5 are eligible for application to such unzoned schools as Central Park East I and II, and Ella Baker, as well as all Charter Schools via school-based lottery.

Residents of District 3 are also eligible to apply to a District 3 Magnet School.   A Magnet School is a public school that offers a very special curriculum designed around a specific theme. It offers students the opportunity to study high interest subjects or experience innovative teaching that goes beyond the basic curriculum and instruction. While each Magnet School in the district has a distinct focus, they are all committed to having every child reach his or her fullest potential. They do this by creating theme-based units of study and developing highly qualified teachers. A Magnet teacher is provided with three times more professional development than that of an average teacher. In addition, Magnet Schools have newly developed curriculum that is standards-based and places students at the center of the learning process. This inquiry-based approach to instruction fosters student engagement and growth. Students are guided as they conduct research and dig deep into technology rich units of study. While the students learn mandated reading and writing skills, Magnet Schools take them much further along their educational journey, asking them to evaluate information and demonstrate their knowledge via culminating projects.

Gifted and Talented Programs

Some elementary schools in New York City offer Gifted and Talented (G&T) education to students who qualify through testing, most beginning in Kindergarten. The majority of the G&T programs consist of separate accelerated classrooms within neighborhood schools. In District 3, programs exist at PS 163, 165, and 166.  There are also several entire schools dedicated to the education of gifted children. These include the Anderson School, the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars (TAG), New Explorations into Science, Technology + Math (NEST+M), Hunter College Elementary School, and the Special Music School

All district and citywide G&T programs use two nationally recognized instruments, the Otis-Lennon School Abilty Test (OLSAT®) and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT®) to determine G&T eligibility. Students who score in the 95th percentile or above based on nationwide standards are guaranteed admission to a G&T program in their district. Students who score at or above 97th percentile will be considered for the three citywide-access G&T programs (Anderson, TAG, and NEST+M).  The Special Music School of America is a citywide access G&T program with a rigorous music-centered curriculum. Entry includes a participating in series of assessments to test musical talent. Hunter College Elementary School accepts Manhattan residents who score above the variable cutoff score on the Stanford-Binet test. This is separate from the other G&T options, as Hunter is a public school administered by Hunter College rather than the NYC Department of Education.

Dual Language Programs  

Dual Language programs provide immersion classrooms within a school designed for half of the students enrolled to be native English speakers and half to be native speakers of another language (Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, or French). Classes are taught in each language on alternate days and the expectation is for students to become fluent in both languages. Enrollment is by application, and is not automatic even if your catchment school offers such a program.  

    For more information on the individual schools and eligibility and entry requirements, please visit the Inside Schools website or review the reference book "New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or order online)

If you move to New York City during the school year or summer and need to find an elementary school:

  • Enrollment consideration cannot take place until official NYC residence has been established. If this has been obtained during the school year but your child is still attending school in another area, eligibility cannot be established until the summer (residence cannot be in two places for NYC public school consideration).
  • In most cases, admission options will be limited to your zoned school, for which you will need to register in person.  To explore additional enrollment possibilities, contact your local Family Welcome Center. If you move to New York after the end of the school year, you may have to wait until late August, when enrollment reopens to register students new to the city or new to public school.
  • To plan your residential location based on schooling options, "New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools" by Clara Hemphill (available in local NYC bookstores or order online), is a helpful resource for learning more about good schools. To find out the catchment elementary school and school district based on the street address, use the school search tool on the NYC DOE website.