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The Soccer Mom: Navigating the Hoboken Preschool Process


NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This post was originally published 3/13/18 and contained information specific to the registration process at that time. Portions of this post have been updated to reflect recent changes in the program.

It feels like you just brought your baby home from the hospital. You blinked and now preschool is upon you. This process can be scary and intimidating. Over the years, you’ve heard bits and pieces at the kids' birthday parties or at the park, seen some comments on Facebook -- it seems everyone knows more than you.

There are so many great things about Hoboken, but when you graduate (reluctantly) to parent, one of the BEST things is FREE full-day preschool starting at three years old!

I have been through the preschool program twice. My oldest, Dominic, entered preschool in 2014 and my youngest, Julian, just entered this past fall. As with many things in Hoboken, the procedure changes year to year, so they were very different processes and they attended different schools. Dominic attended Demarest (Mile Square) and during the registration process, we could rank the schools in order of which we wanted to attend. Back then, not many children were waitlisted. When it was Julian’s turn, there was a lottery to get a spot in Pre-K and once that was established, we were notified later of which school we were placed. He was placed at Connors (Hopes).

Let's start with the basics.

REGISTRATION:

To qualify, your child must be 3 years old by September 30th of the school year for which you applying. You MUST be a current resident of Hoboken- proof is required and there are residency checks throughout the school year. There is usually an information session held in February each year, and the actual registration is in April. (Information & documents needed to register is listed at the end of this article.)

The program is a former Abbott district, meaning that the preschool program is a state funded program initially developed for the poorest urban communities. Families that are homeless or fall below the poverty line are given priority for placement. Special needs students (those with an Individualized Education plan, or, I.E.P) are given the next priority, followed by students with other siblings in the Hoboken public school district. This does not include those in one of the city's Charter schools, and, as of 2019 include only those enrolled in grades 1-12. The remaining spots are then offered to the rest of the population. In recent years, the number of applicants has exceeded the number of spots approved by the state, and a public lottery was initiate with a pending waitlist for the additional applicants.

The number of funded classrooms and/or seats varies each year, as it is based on the number of enrolled first graders during the previous school year. This shows the state the trend of the public school district enrollment and therefore helps to determine the amount of funding the district will receive.

HOPES vs. MILE SQUARE

There are two separate preschool providers in the Hoboken preschool program; Hopes and Mile Square. Each are simply a provider, meaning that the teachers and staff are employed by one or the other. The curriculums are the same, as is the level of care and service. Some schools, such as Brandt, house classes from each of the programs.

The biggest difference a parent will notice is the food. At Hopes, meals and snacks are provided, while with Mile Square there is a fee if you wish for the school to provide meals. Hopes program does not allow students to bring in any food from outside. While many worry (yours truly included) this would be a difficult transition for your child, in my case I have very much LOVED it!! Selfishly, mornings are always such a rush and that is one less thing to worry about. Kids and their teachers eat all together family style (nothing like a little peer pressure to get them to eat their carrots 😊 ). At home Julian used to have fits if I had food he didn’t want to eat on his plate (by fits I mean literally throwing his plate full of food across the room, followed by my husband chasing him around our apartment like a maniac), but now he tells me how at school he can just leave it on his plate and it’s ok, and that’s translated to the same at home (making the dinner hour much more peaceful). If your child has any issues related to eating the teacher does notify the parents and will work with you and the child on a plan. Any dietary needs can be addressed before school starts if placed at a Hopes school.

CURRICULUM

Both programs teach the same curriculum, Tools of the Mind. You may take the FREE course offered for parents during the school year. It gives you a good understanding of how your child is being taught and what all the codes mean on papers that are sent home.

Each child is assigned a Family Advocate at the beginning of the year. The family advocate is an education professional, whose role is to act as the liaison between the families and the school. Additionally, they help to assess and manage the children's strengths and performance in school and promote family involvement within the program. If you have any questions about school, teachers, programs, aftercare, etc., your family advocate is the person to go to.

SCHOOLS & PLACEMENT

There are a total of six public preschools (Wallace, Brandt, Demarest, Rue, St Francis, & Connors). Both schools my children have attended/are attending have truly been terrific! There are 15 kids to a class with a head and assistant teacher.

Placement is first given to those in the priority categories, and they are placed in the most appropriate school and/or setting for them (i.e. some schools are better equipped for special needs accommodations). Every effort is make to place siblings in the same school, however this cannot be 100% guaranteed. Then, those who received placement from the public lottery are placed. Again, every effort is made to place a student at the school closest to their home, however this also cannot be 100% guaranteed.

If you are waitlisted, you will be offered a spot as they become available, which may not be at the school closest to you. If you decide to take this spot, you can then put in a request to transfer, however this may or may not be able to be accommodated. If you decide NOT to take the offered spot, you are removed from the waitlist and relinquish your place. You must reapply to the preschool program the following year if you want to attend.

ORIENTATION

Each school is different when it comes to orientation. With my oldest, orientation was held in the classroom while Julian’s was a home visit from the teacher.

Once you receive your placement information, I do suggest reaching out through mom’s groups and on FB to try and get the kids in the same class together before school starts. Before last year we invited all the kids (and parents) who would be attending my son's Connors class together at Madison Park to play together. It does help make the transition a little easier for the kids...and the parents. Isn’t it always nice to see a friend the first day at a new school?

SCHOOL INFO

As it relates to the details; School opens at 8:30 and goes until 2:30. The schools do offer aftercare (WRAP) until 6:00 for a fee depending on your income level. You can also opt for aftercare with an outside program. I have done both. The WRAP program was great. You have the option for activities with an additional charge. The staff is terrific and many are the assistant teachers with a few other outside staff. Beforecare is also offered at the schools for individuals who may need.

My overall experience having gone through it with both of my kids has been AMAZING. The teachers are very caring. The kids learn so much!! This program is not babysitting program for your kids while you work! My kids had/are having a great time, while learning much more than they would at home with me 😊. Know there will be transition that each child will go through, but the teachers and staff have seen it all and will help your child through it. I am a working parent and find having an email communication with my son’s teacher during those times has been very helpful.

Caution!! Do not over email your teacher if not needed. Like you, they don’t like to get SPAM email. All in all, use your resources, speak to other parents who have been down the road you're heading down, talk to your daycare, to your friends and family who are educators, and most important...use your mother's intuition.

The upcoming information session for the 2019-2020 school year is Wednesday Feb 6th 9am-10am at the Demarest Auditorium. Registration is Monday April 9th - Friday April 5th. It does NOT matter which day or time you register, all general population applicants are placed into the random lottery.

Additional information and the registration packet can be found on the district website.

You can view the information session from last year here.

Finally, below is a Q & A with Sandra Rodriguez, the former Director of Early Childhood & Principal of Joseph F. Brandt Primary School, and now the assistant superintendent of the Hoboken Public School District. This touch-base includes several of the frequently asked questions for parents entering the Hoboken preschool process. (EDITORS NOTE: THIS IS THE ORIGINAL INTERVIEW FROM 2018 AND HAS NOT BEEN EDITED OR CHANGED. THE FACTS STATED IN THIS INTERVIEW MAY OR MAY NOT BE APPLICABLE TO THE CURRENT PRESCHOOL REGISTRATION OR CURRICULUM PROGRAM. WE DECIDED TO LEAVE IT IN THIS ARTICLE, TO PROVIDE READERS WITH THE BACK STORY AND AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE)

Little Hoboken Q & A

LH: Do you think now that the families are aware of the lottery it has helped with transparency in the preschool process? This has been the biggest discussion point on social media.

SH: I really do. As with all things, once there is a shift in any process the communication piece becomes critical. Last year, we engaged in many conversations regarding the need for a lottery and how this process would allow families the information needed and provide it sooner. In the past, there was not a clear understanding of what happened after the registration week. We shared FAQ’s around Hoboken’s Preschool Program. This FAQ included the history of the Abbott decision, the educational equity driver as it related to the at-risk population, and information regarding the case for a lottery. Throughout this journey, the NJDOE-DECE has provided guidance, the Superintendent has provided guidance and most importantly the families have provided guidance. Additionally, we held a public lottery. We invited all that had registered during Registration Week to Brandt and they were able to witness it, although attendance was not mandatory. As numbers were pulled a clerk was creating the list, in real-time. In addition to that we also shared the pending placement numbers for those that were not selected in the lottery. We are proud of this process as it is very transparent.

LH: Knowing that the total amount of preschool classes (59) are going to be the same next year, what are the exceptions for the amount of classes in each school?

SR: This will all depend on two data points: the number of new applicants and the number of rising PK4 students. We are in constant conversations with our preschool provider partners and will review the data points shared when we begin to consider what the locations footprint will look like.

LH: After the priority placements are filled, what are the first considerations for allocation? There were some comments of uptown families placed downtown this past year.

SR: So, the priority placements are initial anchors for seats in the program. Of the priority placement characteristics only IEP and current sibling location would be markers for specific locations. Once those are placed, we then look to proximity from home to school. What we have seen is that many downtown families that are place uptown or vice versa were placed off of the Pending Placement List and were offered the seat that was available.

LH: What is the biggest misconception you feel there is for Pre-K in Hoboken and the process?

SR: I feel like we are in a good space as it relates to families understanding the preschool process. We have various outlets that are sharing correct and current information. These include the Hoboken Public School’s website which we constantly update, the Hoboken Early Childhood Advisory Council’s Facebook page, and parent groups at all the preschool locations that serve as amazing ambassadors for this program. Additionally, our emails are on the website and we have a guiding principle to answer all inquiries in an expeditious manner. In the past, the wait time during the registration process was very long. We have engaged in shifts and now we are proud to share that the longest someone, with all that is required in terms of documentation, would spend is 15-20 minutes.

LH: Is there anyone looking at the aftercare being offered during the half day dismissal?

SR: The aftercare piece is not a part of the process that we organize, monitor or maintain. This is separate and distinct from the 6-hour Abbott day and so no, there isn’t a consideration here. We can and certainly do provide feedback to the preschool providers regarding the same. The funded preschool program must align to the district calendar in all ways and this includes half-days.

LH: What is/are some of the biggest mistakes/learnings you have seen in parents during enrollment and during the 1st year at school?

SR: I think some of the biggest issues are that parents often go to social media first. While I can absolutely understand the community aspect of posing a question and having people answer them or give impressions there is no one that actually has the current and correct information vetting the responses. This often causes undue stress, confusion and frustration. The ECE Team, from the clerks to our Community and Parent Involvement Specialist (Nory Rojas) to me and even to Dr. Johnson herself, are incredibly responsive and enjoy engaging with families to provide the most current and accurate information. We also are still finding that some families might not be as familiar with the fact that the preschool program and the funding that supports it has no relationship to the K-12 budgeting reality. The monies that support this program from teachers to other vital staff come to us via a grant called Preschool Education Aid. This grant is highly monitored directly by the New Jersey Department of Education-Department of Early Childhood and Family Engagement (NJDOE-DECEFE). Overall, I would have to commend Hoboken families for doing their research, visiting the website, downloading the application and gathering all the pertinent data that is vital in facilitating the registration process. As it relates to the 1st year of school, I think each family is different and having your 3 year old attend school is a very difficult reality to manage. The anxiety that is felt by new parents is often high but they soon are comforted by the teacher and the positive class and school environment.

LH: What advice would you give a parent entering this process for the 1st time?

SR: My advice would be to acclimate yourself with the process as shared on the website, to attend the Preschool Day of Visitation (if you missed it, the presentation is on the website), to visit the Hoboken Early Childhood Advisory Council Facebook page and finally to talk to other families who are currently enrolled or have gone through our preschool program. I strongly feel that we have a stellar preschool program, one that is best in class, and I know that our families are our fiercest and most informed advocates. Start with them!!

Documentation Requirements:

  • 1 Copy of current lease, deed, mortgage statement, or tax bill

  • 1 Copy of current cable, phone, PSEG bill, ban or credit card statement

  • Copy of your child’s birth certificate or passport (foreign copy must be translated in English

  • Copy of child’s immunization records and updated physical

  • Photo identification of parent/guardian

Nathalie is a mom of two boys, 7 and 4 years old, works full-time in the fashion industry, is a fitness instructor at Renaissance The Studio, and a Beautycounter consultant. She has been through the process of Hoboken Pre-K, Charter Lottery, summer camps, and tutors. Nathalie’s love of sports has rubbed off on her boys and you can find her on weekends running from one sporting activity to the other.


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HEADER PHOTO CREDIT: Danielle Guenther Photography

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