NYC 5th graders receive middle school offers, as city considers changes to admissions process

Four middle school students work together on worksheets and a laptop on a desk.
New York City fifth grade families received their middle school placements on Wednesday, marking the end of the monthslong admissions process. (Allison Shelley for EDUimages)

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Amanda Rinzel, a parent and educator who lives in Brooklyn, spent her spare moments on Wednesday nervously refreshing her MySchools account, waiting for the news of where her fifth grade son would attend middle school in the fall.

It was the family’s second time going through the middle school admissions process, but in some ways, this year felt different from her first experience. Her older son, a seventh grader at the Professional Performing Arts School, had always been interested in musical theater — making the Hell’s Kitchen school, which accepts students from across the five boroughs via audition, “an obvious choice.”

Stanley, her younger son, is “more well-rounded” in his interests, said Rinzel, who lives in District 17. They ended up ranking the Brooklyn Green School, a boroughwide program in nearby District 16, as their top choice. It drew them in with an administration that seemed especially receptive to student needs, as well as its strong arts and athletics programs, she said.

On Wednesday, Rinzel was elated to learn Stanley had been admitted to his top choice school.

“Middle school can be so hard,” said Rinzel, who teaches at a middle school in the Bronx. “It just seems like a happy place, and I’m so excited for him to be in a school that is uplifting.”

For many families, the Wednesday placements marked the end of the city’s middle school admissions process. In December, fifth grade families across the city ranked as many as 12 middle schools as they submitted their applications.

Over the next week, the city’s Education Department will host three virtual sessions for families to learn more about offers and waitlists.

Unlike the city’s notorious high school admissions process, many middle schools across the city feature district programs that are open only to students who live in the area — with some zoned schools only allowing applicants from within a smaller subset of the district. Other programs offer boroughwide admissions, allowing all students who live in the borough to apply, while other schools allow any student in the city to apply.

Some middle schools also use academic screens to determine admissions, sorting students as young as nine based on their grades. Those screens were initially paused during the pandemic, then brought back in some districts at the discretion of each of the city’s 32 local school district superintendents.

Further change to the admissions process may be on the horizon.

For months, the city’s Education Department has been floating a potential change to the process at parent leader meetings — soliciting feedback on a possible shift that would allow students to apply widely outside of their district. Students applying to schools in their own district would still have priority for seats, according to discussions at various meetings.

Still, it may be some time before any changes are enacted.

In a statement, the city’s Education Department confirmed its Office of Student Enrollment was considering possible changes.

“One of the potential changes we are exploring with parents, advocates and educators is allowing students to apply to middle schools outside of their districts,” a spokesperson said. “Conversations are ongoing and no decisions have been made.”

For Rinzel, a citywide process would have meant more options for her and Stanley to consider. She added they may have looked at more schools beyond their district and borough.

More options for students could also mean a more equitable system, opening up seats at schools that may have more resources than those close to home, Rinzel said. But still, she noted that traveling outside of the borough to attend school each day could add potential safety concerns for young students.

“There are a lot of factors that parents and kids have to take into account if they’re applying citywide,” she said.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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