All the hubbub around charters, focus schools and open enrollment can be summed up in one word: choice. It’s all the rage in education these days, and it becomes all the more important this time of year as open enrollment deadlines near. Gone are the days of simply picking between free or paid. Finding a school is now very nuanced: parents do research and even public schools rely on word of mouth. With schools offering everything from non-traditional classroom culture, programs like advanced placement and low student-teacher ratios, choice has caused an ever-growing shift in how parents consider their kids’ education.
Here are a few tips on tackling the system:
Tip No. 1: Know your kid
Choice comes down to finding the right school for each particular student. First, you really need to know your child’s wants and needs. A smart but bored student can find a school that will challenge and focus his or her attention; a student who needs extra support can also find a school that offers small class sizes and one-on-one help. From Montessori to Core Knowledge to International Baccalaureate, parents can choose between various curricula at both public and private. Some schools also offer focus programming, which allows students to concentrate their studies on technology, science and math, arts, language and more.
Athletics and extracurriculars should also be looked at, especially if your kid excels at drama, music, art or a particular sport. A small charter with no football team may not be the best choice if your son is 6 feet 5 inches, 260 pounds.
Tip No. 2: Know your resources
Every school year, thousands of local parents opt to leave their neighborhood schools and look for something different or more specialized: a charter, a different neighborhood or focus school, an out-of-district school or a private school.
The most important part of choice is being educated about the schools that are out there. Many schools host tours or enrollment sessions this time of year. Check out the district websites—bvsd.org and stvrain.k12.co.us—to find descriptions of local schools. For information on charter schools, visit csi.state.co.us, the website for the Colorado Charter Institute, and coloradoleague.org, the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ website.
Also, check out Charter Schools: The Ultimate Handbook for Parents, a book by Colorado parent Karin Piper. Piper set out to examine practically everything a parent needs to know about charters. Her guide considers the myths and misconceptions and goes beyond the basics to give readers a solid, well-rounded view of putting their children into charters.
For parents interested in private schools, the Colorado Department of Education has an online resource: cde.state.co.us, and check out privateschoolreview.com, a great site for exploring local private schools.
Tip No. 3: Know the process
If you know what you want, the open enrollment process for public schools is pretty simple. Find a school, go to the district website and apply.
But be warned: many schools have a very limited number of openings, if any at all. When applications exceed attendance numbers, a lottery system will come into play. The lottery does not show preference to any student. Though, some focus or charter schools will show preference in enrollment based on family income, siblings of current or former students, geographic area and children of staff and faculty.
For Boulder Valley School District’s 2010–11 school year, open enrollment applications will be accepted through Jan. 15. Students will be notified in early February, and parents must respond with an acceptance no later than 4pm on Feb. 12. A second round of offers will be made in March. Apply at bvsd.org.
Applications for open enrollment for St. Vrain Valley School District schools are due by Jan. 15. Letters will be sent to kids or parents in early February, and confirmation must be made by March 1. Apply at stvrain.k12.co.us.
Private schools vary on their rules and needs for admission, and many allow students to apply throughout the year. A good rule of thumb—if you are looking to enroll for fall of 2010—is to touch base with the school or apply before the winter break. An interview between an administrator and the parent and child is often required. Check their websites to find the specific dates.
Tip No. 4: Support your neighborhood school
Just because you have the opportunity to send your kid elsewhere does not mean you have to leave your neighborhood school. In fact, your child may fit perfectly in the school down the street. If you choose to stay with your neighborhood school, there is no need to open enroll.