For this guide, YS asked local educators and administrators about open enrollment and parents’ common misconceptions. We’ve compiled answers to those misconceptions to set the record straight:
Myth: “There is a perfect school.” Reality: All schools have ups and downs. The best schools will push your student. Even when a school is solid, your child may not like the stress and strain.
Myth: “There is only one school for my student.” Reality: A vast majority of local schools are great. Even if you opt to open enroll, getting your second choice might be a blessing in disguise.
Myth: “Charter schools are private and you must pay tuition to attend.” Reality: Charters are public, semi-autonomous schools, and their student bodies are based completely on open enrollment.
Myth: “The drive is no big deal.” Reality: Location does matter. As much as you think you wouldn’t mind a 20-minute commute, make sure you and your kid are ready for the commitment.
Myth: “One school has fewer bullies and more good kids than the others.” Reality: Schools may handle bullying and discipline differently, but no school has a higher percentage of “good” or “bad” kids.
Myth: “I live down the street from a school, so it must be my neighborhood school.” Reality: Just because a school is in your neighborhood, it does not mean it’s your district-designated school. Check the district website to find your designated school.
Myth: “That school has great scores, so it must just accept the smartest kids.” Reality: Open enrollment acceptance is not based on achievement or test scores.
Myth: “Everyone open enrolls.” Reality: You do not need to open enroll your student—no matter what all your friends are doing. In fact, a good chunk of parents do not open enroll their students.
(Meet the Administration)
Mike Wilcox, BVSD Assistant Director for Student Enrollment
“Things are hopping when it comes to open enrollment. Families now understand that they have a choice. We get folks from other states, even from other districts, seeing that every school is a choice school. They say, ‘I have to pick from 55 schools? What’s the best school? What’s the school that is most like my child?’ We don’t advocate for one school. And we can’t. It’s hard to answer those types of questions. We try to describe each school, and we try to have parents investigate the schools. If you think about it, your student will be at that school for eight years. That’s how many years you’ll have a car or be in a house. It’s a big decision. You need to meet the staff. You need to see the facilities.”
Administrators interviewed for this guide offered a very important tip: Don’t emotionally involve your child in the open-enrollment process. A parent may have some anxiety over which school their young one is accepted into, but there is no need to pass your stress onto your student.
“Choice” is no benign topic. It’s been a hot-button issue at the federal level, in statewide politics and in local districts for decades. From issues of equity and diversity to achievement and testing, parents, politicians and educators have battled it out in hopes of bettering public schools (for a while, that seemed to be the only common ground). Some have pushed for choice and charters, and others have fought back in hopes of maintaining quality neighborhood schools. Out of the debate has come a certain reality: Like it or not, schools must now compete to attract students.
Trying to cash in on the preferences for open enrollment? Cheaters beware—and we know you are out there—districts do verify claims made by parents on open enrollment forms. If you claim that a sibling attends a certain school, they will check. If you claim an employee preference but you haven’t actually worked for the district in five years, sorry!
By Sam Fuqua, local father of three and BVSD School Board director
“There are several reasons we decided to keep our kids in our neighborhood school. The first, really, is that we thought it was a good school. We had done some observing in the classes, and we’d asked other parents in the neighborhood who had older kids. We felt the school was good and would work for our kids. Secondly, it’s about our values: the idea that the neighborhood school is a critical part of your neighborhood and a way for you to build community. And the third reason is that we wanted to have a school that our kids could ride their bikes to or walk to. I can see where it’s possible to open enroll into another school and for kids to be able to ride a bike there, but certainly that was not possible for our kids. We didn’t want to be spending all that time driving our kids or putting our kids on the bus. I was educated in my neighborhood schools in Michigan. It’s an important way to connect. …Also, as parents, we get to be more active in the school, and we learn about local issues. When parents connect over school issues, we also connect on other issues in the neighborhood. We find out about developments, and we can get involved.”
(Meet the Administration)
Adam Fels, Louisville Middle School
Louisville Middle School is a neighborhood school, but its student body is made up of 36 percent open enrollment students. Principal Adam Fels said the school has worked to compete with popular charters by becoming “a high-end model” of learning. “The charter school movement was a wonderful wake up call for public schools,” he said. “It opened up an alternative for parents. So, we went beyond answering the challenge, and we began to think of ourselves in competition. We asked, ‘What do we need to do to be as forward-thinking, as hip, as innovative as those schools?” All BVSD schools are great schools, Fels said. “As a parent you cannot make a bad choice with these schools,” he continued. When it comes to open enrollment, parents should first decide if they need to open enroll their son or daughter in another school.
(Principal Fels’ 9 steps to finding the best fit for your kid)
* Visit the school’s website. “Click and click and click, and explore as much as you can,” he said.
* Visit the school’s open houses. Do you like the vibe? Do you like the atmosphere?
* Spend time thinking about the scope and sequence of the academics. Does it fit what you and your child want and need?
* Check out the school’s co-curricular activities—clubs, sports and arts—and make sure your student’s interests are met.
* Talk to your student, and listen to his or her thoughts and opinions on the school.
* Check where your kid’s friends are attending. “Kids’ friendships really do matter,” Fels said.
* Align with your partner or spouse. “You need to agree and be on the same page. This is key,” he said.
* Think about the location of the school. Is it close enough? Can your student ride her or his bike to school? Are you ready for the commitment of driving 20 minutes every day?
* Make a decision. “You have to end your search at some point. Stick to your decision,” Fels said. “Smile, relax and then commit to putting your energy into supporting that school. Don’t look back, and don’t compare once you’ve made the decision.”
Kathy DeMatteo, Twin Peaks Charter Academy parent
“I think if parents don’t do their homework on open enrollment, they will be disappointed. Every parent has an idea based on who they have talked to and what they have understood from those people. At the end of the day, it’s up to the parent to go to that school, get the information about the specific program they are interested in, and see if it is a good fit for their student. Every student learns differently. Every school is not for every child, and at the end of the day, the biggest pitfall you can get into as a parent is when you look at the whole menu of schools and just choose based on someone else’s opinion. The investment of time will in turn allow your child to be the most successful child they can be.”
The percent increase in students attending Colorado charter schools this year.
Your kid’s school may not be a “focus” school but could have specialties or rigorous academics, said Connie Syferd, St. Vrain assistant superintendent of student services. Call the school to find out where they excel.
(Meet the Administration)
Scott Schneider, Alexander Dawson School
We’d be remiss to leave out private schools in the spectrum of choice. Alexander Dawson director of upper school admissions, Scott Schneider, says awareness of independent schools has increased. “We find more parents realize there are choices outside of the traditional public system, whether it’s college-prep or a Waldorf or Montessori,” he said. With continued cuts in public school budgets, parents often seek independents because of their arts, small class sizes and academic offerings. While parents pay tuition, Dawson and others give financial aid. Schneider advises parents and students to visit websites and take a tour. As for the types of students they’re looking for? “We want students who’ll be a part of the classroom. We want students who have been involved, who will take advantange of the opportunity.”