NYC’s public school system is enormous -- it’s the largest in the United States. There are over 1.1 million students taught at over 1,800 schools throughout the five boroughs. The school system is run by the city’s Department of Education (“DOE”), and overseen by a chancellor who reports to the city’s mayor. Our newest chancellor, David Banks, started with Mayor Adams' administration at the beginning of January 2022. You can read more about David Banks here.
The new chancellor adopted an established hierarchy, stretching from the chancellor all the way down to individual school administrators.
The city’s school system is broken down geographically. At a high level, it’s divided into 32 areas, called school districts. Each district is led by a superintendent.
Within 29* of these districts, the location is broken down even further into school zones.
Every NYC resident lives within a school district and, for the most part*, a school zone.
So, why is it important to understand districts and zones for your family's school search?
The majority of NYC public elementary school students attend their zoned schools. New students, whether they are ageing into kindergarten or moving to NYC (welcome!), are usually guaranteed a spot at their zoned school, unless that school happens to have a shortage of available spots. Don’t worry, this is a rarity!
To keep things exciting, some districts have both zoned and unzoned schools. Unzoned schools give equal priority to students from across the district, regardless of where they live.
In addition to attending your zoned school or an unzoned school in your district, you could possibly also be accepted into a different zoned school -- perhaps one in a nearby neighborhood. Whether you get in depends on how you rank your school choices and the space available at your desired school. For more about admissions, visit our admissions page.
Do you have more than one child? Most of these schools give priority for siblings, as well as for children who attend pre-K in those schools.
There are three main categories of schools that you can consider for your child: public, private and charter. All of the schools I mention above I’m categorizing as “public”. Charter schools are technically public in that they’re funded with tax dollars, but there are some key differences between the two, which we detail on this post.
* As it turns out, three districts don’t have zoned schools. If you’re a family in District 1 (Lower East Side), District 7 (South Bronx), or District 23 (East New York in Brooklyn), you can apply to any school within your district and have the same priority as every other student in your district, just like when applying to unzoned schools.