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Schools, Schools And More Schools.

The New York City school system is no picnic!

By Alex McCord

Schools, schools and more schools. Sometimes it's enough to make you want to home school. Whether it's public or private, getting your child into a good school is a blood sport here in New York. The application process would baffle most thinking people; what sort of essay do you write about a toddler? Once your child's interview or playgroup is over, all the hedge fund cash in the world and a letter from the mayor won't grease the wheels. First on the list are children of teachers and alums, next are siblings and finally new applicants like us. It's then down to age and gender -- 2 years 10 months is light years away from 3 years 1 month according to the admissions directors, and they usually want an equal mix of boys and girls.

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Here's an abbreviated timeline. We started researching schools shortly after François was born, and applied to three schools when he was 2 1/2 years old. (Also, as a precaution in the event of our deaths, we registered him at Simon's high school in Australia, where, unless registration is done at birth, entry isn't even guaranteed). He was waitlisted at all of them. Later that year during an incidental conversation with another school's Admissions Director, we heard that there was one spot for a 3 year old boy available in a great preschool we hadn't applied to, and they were willing to make a slight exception to allow in our (2 years 10 month old) son. Simon and I literally dropped everything and raced over to the school with our checkbook, filled out the application and enrolled him on the spot. His initial preschool experience came down to a well-timed phone call!This year François is attending our zoned public school, and even securing that seat was a process. We live in the zone of one of the best elementary schools in the city; people pay a premium for houses in good school zones and it's something realtors always mention to young couples. However just living in those few square blocks isn't enough; there are so many children in our zone that pre-K admission is not guaranteed. We applied last March, complete with utility bills and a copy of our deed, and were entered into a lottery for pre-K admission. François drew #10 on the wait list, and let me tell you, at that point we felt pretty low. We still had the option to continue at his existing preschool but with only half-days available, we knew he was ready for more. One week after Labor Day, we received a call that a spot had become available, and we once again dropped everything and Simon hand-delivered François's folder to the school. This year François has fantastic teachers and we're ecstatically happy!

We would be happy for the boys to attend this school until 6th grade, but it is also necessary to start thinking about where we want the boys to attend middle school – would you believe it! Anyplace else in the States we'd be considered crazy. Here in New York, however, and in Brownstone Brooklyn particularly, it's just that tough. In Brooklyn there are several top-notch schools within walking distance. There are also an overwhelming number of children in our neighborhood, plus quite a few kids from Manhattan (Tribeca & the Financial District especially) who commute to Downtown Brooklyn – it is much closer for them than either the Upper East or Upper West sides. The last thing Simon and I want to do is set the boys up for a long commute to school, so we've begun now to apply to our favorite schools that go from Kindergarten to High School, and will continue to apply until they are accepted. As long as we place them by the time they finish 5th grade, it really doesn't matter which year the change happens. There are also date restrictions; different schools have different age cut-offs per grade, and as the boys both have late birthdays we might be looking at kindergarten, the 4's or pre-kindergarten all in the same admissions cycle. Once they are in first grade those dates mercifully converge, so it will get easier.With so many choices, how does one develop a favorite school? It starts with location and continues with the feeling you get from the teachers, the administrators, the children you meet at the school – it's the total package. We've been very, very selective as to which schools we've applied to, and we never apply to a school we tour unless we love it. It would be ridiculous to apply to a school just because others do –we've never gone in for that. Selectivity makes the process more arduous – most of the parents we know who have successfully placed their kids the first year have applied to 10 to 12 schools. We've narrowed it down to just a couple, because having toured almost everywhere there are a definite few where we can see both boys being happy, and at this point we don't need to settle for anything else. Of course if we get to grade 5 and still haven't gotten in anywhere, we'll reevaluate. Things may also change as the boys grow up. If they develop particular strengths such as science or the arts we'll look at specialized schools as well. For now, François is happy and so are we, and Johan can't wait to start preschool this autumn.

What else? This week you'll see all of us attending various fashion shows. It had been several years since I'd attended a tent show in Bryant Park. Put it to you this way – the last NYC fashion week show I'd attended was when Kevyn Aucoin was still alive – what a beautiful person he was. None of the designers we tend to buy show in New York (they all do Milan or Paris,) so in the last few years Simon and I have been more likely to attend trunk shows and cocktail previews in designer's showrooms or boutiques as opposed to the tents in Bryant Park. When Bethenny invited us to Pamella Roland's show neither of us had heard of her, but as always we embrace new experiences, so we thought, "Why not?" B also said that we had to meet her friend Jill because she was such a character, so off we went with our heads up and eyes open.

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